Why Tetra Paks aren’t green (even though they’re ‘recyclable’)

Tetra Paks are the cartons you find in the shops that are used to package long-life milk, juice and various other liquids. You can also find products like chopped tomatoes packaged in this way. These containers allow food to be protected from contamination by bacteria and other microbes, meaning products can sit on the shelf for months without going bad.

Once they’re used, Tetra Pak assure us that they can be recycled.

That sounds great, but I was left wondering…how exactly are Tetra Paks recycled? Aren’t they made up of layers of different material? Is it even possible to separate them, and then what happens to the materials?

After some investigating, my conclusion is that Tetra Paks aren’t a green solution at all. Here’s why.

What is a Tetra Pak made from?

Tetra Paks are made up of a number of components which are layered: paperboard (made from wood), polyethylene (a type of plastic) and aluminum. These different components give Tetra Paks their unique properties: keeping the liquids in but the microbes out, and a strong but lightweight container.

Packaging material, aseptic carton package

When a Tetra Pak is recycled, all these component parts need to be separated out.

What Does Recycling Mean?

Whilst recycling can be thought of as a way of converting waste into a new material, more accurately it means a process to return material to a previous stage in a process that operates as a cycle. After all, the word is “re-cycling”. The idea is to take a used product and turn them back into the same type of product, such as glass bottles being melted down and formed into new glass bottles. There is no loss of quality, so this recycling of glass can go on forever.

When a product doesn’t get turned back into the same product, but one of lesser quality (as with plastic recycling) it isn’t recycled, it’s downcycled. Products that are downcycled often only undergo a limited number of cycles (maybe as few as 2) before reaching the end of their useful lives and ending up in landfill.

For Tetra Pak to be truly recycled, these layers of paperboard, polyethylene and aluminium would need to be separated out, and reformed to make new Tetra Pak cartons. However, that isn’t what happens.

How is a Tetra Pak Recycled?

I’ve found not one, but two different videos that explain how Tetra Paks are recycled: how they are sorted into their component parts and what happens to these parts.

The first is a somewhat cheesy video from India, which seems to be a Tetra Pak promotional video that lasts four minutes. The second is a UK/German video that runs for less than two minutes.

Whilst you watch them, think about the following:

  • How much energy is involved in the process?
  • How are the post-recycled materials used?
  • Where is the ‘cycle’ part of the process?

Why Tetra Paks aren’t Sustainable

If Tetra Paks are recyclable, why aren’t they green? Let’s look at the different components, where they come from and what happens to them once the cartons are empty.

Paperboard (Wood)

Tetra Pak have devoted a significant amount of their website space to telling customers how sustainable their containers are. As well as talking at length about Tetra Paks being recyclable, they inform us that Tetra Pak source FSC-certified wood for 41% of their cartons worldwide (2013 figure). This equated to 32 billion FSC-labelled Tetra Paks reaching consumers in 2013.

Let’s look at this another way.

If 32 billion containers is 41%, then the amount of non-FSC wood Tetra Paks reaching consumers would be 46 million. 46 million containers made from non-renewable sources? That is a lot of wood. Tetra Pak might have a goal to reach 100% FSC-wood, but it isn’t happening now.

When this paperboard is recycled, it isn’t turned back into new Tetra Paks. It is unclear whether this is because their paperboard needs to come from virgin sources to avoid contamination (as is the case with plastic), or whether the quality of the recycled paperboard isn’t high enough to make new cartons, or some other reason. Whatever the reason, it is turned into office paper.

Plastic and Aluminium

The other two layers of the Tetra Pak, polyethylene (plastic) and aluminium, cannot be separated by the recycling process and remain combined as a “polymer”. The uses for this “polymer” is in the cement industry, or as low-cost housing material. The question arises, is there a genuine demand for this product, or is there a market because of an abundant supply of this waste material?

The fact that it gets reused and isn’t sent to landfill is great, except it doesn’t serve to make Tetra Paks a “green” solution. These cartons use fresh plastic and aluminium to make their cartons, and the waste products becomes something else entirely. Thus it is a linear system, not a cycle – and anything that is linear cannot be sustainable long-term.

A Word on Recycling Tetra Paks

The other thing to alwyas remember about recycling, is just because something can be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it will be recycled. The two are very different. For example, in the UK access to recycling facilities is as high as 85%; in the USA it’s nearer 40%, and in other countries like China, considerably less. Tetra Pak estimate global recycling was less than 25% in 2013. In Denmark in 2007, 33% of Tetra Paks were incinerated: resources turned to toxic ash.

The Conclusion

Tetra Pak may want to be sustainable; they may want to use 100% FSC wood and achieve 100% recycling rates, but they still have a long way to go. Even if they achieve this, there’s no getting away from the fact that Tetra Pak production is a linear process. Tetra Paks are turned into different post-consumer products, meaning a constant supply of fresh virgin material (wood, oil and aluminum) is needed for their manufacture.

Tetra Paks – What Are The Alternatives?

  • Choose glass over Tetra Pak containers. Glass can be truly recycled back into new glass products. You can find wine, milk, juice and oil in glass so there’s no need to buy Tetra Paks for these items.
  • For items like chopped tomatoes, use steel cans, which can also be truly recycled.
  • Consider refillables, or making your own. Juicing your own fruit is far tastier than drinking pasteurized syrupy juice in cartons, and healthier too!
  • If you can’t avoid Tetra Paks, skip the single serve containers. Buy the largest size and decant into individual containers for lunches or when you’re out and about.

Did you know that Tetra Paks contained plastic and aluminium, and that they cannot be truly recycled? Did any of the statistics surprise you? Are Tetra Paks something that you regularly buy? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave a comment below!

Zero Waste Week 2014: Reducing Landfill on Holidays

When I first agreed to participate in Zero Waste Week, I had totally forgotten that I would be on holiday. Being completely waste-free isn’t easy at the best of times, but what about whilst on holidays, with all that uncertainty and all those unknowns?! At home with your routines and habits, and you’re comfortable with where to buy the things you need, it’s far easier to plan and make preparations.

When I did realise, I decided it would be good to give it a go regardless. Your morals and philosophies shouldn’t change just because you’re not at home! I love a challenge, and anyway, I wasn’t planning on throwing my zero-waste philosophy out the window just because I was on unfamiliar ground…so why not just keep on doing what I always (try to) do?

My Pledge: To Send Nothing to Landfill during Zero Waste Week

The theme for Zero Waste Week 2014 is “one more thing”, so I wanted to pledge something that would be a challenge – not something I do already – and sending nothing to landfill is my long-term goal. Holidays or not, that’s what I want to be doing!

For the first few days I was in London visiting my sister, who was responsible for the shopping. She actually lives right next to a bulk bin store and a superb little greengrocer that sells most of its produce loose – even the majority of herbs, and things that are often plastic-wrapped like baby carrots. I often hear that bulk bin stores don’t exist in the UK, so I like seeing things that prove this wrong! I was also very pleased to learn that she buys her olive oil in bulk using a refillable bottle : )

Unpackaged refill bulk store sign

Yay! Loose, unpackaged and bulk foods for sale in London right around the corner from where my sister lives (Newington Green).

Loose produce at the greengrocers

This superb little greengrocer had so much stuff completely packaging-free, including herbs, chantaney carrots, chillies and all sorts of other exciting and exotic things!

Using reusable cloth bags at the bulk bin store

Bulk bin store and my sister’s first experience of using reusable produce bags. “But prunes are sticky!” then “Oh, you can just wash the bags after.” Yep, it’s that simple!

We also ate out quite a bit (I’m on holidays!). That said, I’m always vigilant to refuse any unneccessary packaging, particularly plastic cups and straws, and bags of any kind. I’ve been carrying my metal lunchbox around with me in case I have any leftovers that need to be taken home. Alas, I’m far too greedy for that and my plate is always spotless!

Ottolenghi London salad selection

This is the salad selection at Ottolenghi in Islington, London. The salads are offered as take away or for dining in. They are amazing. I went twice in three days (eating in of course!). Mmmm.

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This was an awesome little pizza place where they use sourdough for the bases. I loved the upcycled tins being used as cutlery/napkin holders, and also the refillable oil and water bottles.

After a couple of nights I’m back staying with my parents in Kent. They have a garden full of home-grown produce and both home- and council-collected composting, so landfill waste is not a problem from food. I trained my mum to take her own containers to the butchers during Plastic Free July 2013. She doesn’t have any bulk bins stores locally, but she does her bit. (She’s even joining in the zero waste action by keeping a list of all the things she’s sending to landfill!)

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Zero waste vegetables for dinner - no packaging in sight : )

Zero waste vegetables for dinner – no packaging in sight : )

I also composted a tissue after blowing my nose, so as not to put it in the bin. Not particularly interesting but worth a mention because my mum was absolutely horrified/disturbed at the idea! I even had to fight to be allowed to put it in the composting bucket! She was quite grossed out by the thought of having to wash it out after when my tissue had been in there. Never mind that it has rotting vegetables, coffee grinds, moldy tomatoes and other stinky stuff in there – it was my tissue that she found the most disgusting!

Zero Waste Week: What About the Waste?

I was feeling very pleased about how little waste I’ve generated until my sister pointed out that I used some dental floss and a cotton bud at her house, and both went in the bin. I don’t floss because I’m lazy and I can’t find plastic-free floss, but my sister has had a root canal and is keen not to have another one. Staying with her and observing her superior dental routine, I felt guilty about my lack of flossing, so joined in…I didn’t even think about the waste! As for the cotton bud, I just assumed she used ones with biodegradable stems, but the one she has are made with plastic. Oops. She also doesn’t have any composting facilities either, so even a biodegradable one would have ended up in landfill.

My sister also cooked me dinner on the first night, and the vegetable peelings ended up in the bin, but I didn’t buy the ingredients or make the food (and everything was bought before I arrived), so I don’t think it counts.

At my parents’ house, there is a snack cupboard full of plastic-packaged things that I try to avoid, but I confess to eating a few handfuls of peanuts from the open (plastic) bag in the cupboard. And a biscuit from a packet. (And most of a bar of chocolate, but that comes in foil and paper which can be recycled!) Tomorrow I will be better behaved!

Zero Waste Week has been quite fun so far, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how my family have picked up some of my ideas and my influence is rubbing off. In a place like London it can be quite overwhelming when you see how much rubbish is produced (everywhere, by everyone, all the time), so it’s reassuring to think that it is still possible to take action. After all, small actions taken by lots of people lots of times adds up to making a big difference, and that is what leads to real change.

How about you? Are you taking part in Zero Waste Week? If so, how has your experience been so far? What about vacations: do you try to keep your standards the same when on holiday, or do they take a holiday too? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment!

Zero Waste Living: Glass Dharma Reusable Glass Straws

Plastic straws. Is any single-use plastic more wasteful than the plastic straw? (Okay, yes; I can certainly think of a few other examples, but plastic straws have got to be up there with the best – or worst – of them.) I’ve been using a stainless steel straw for a while, but I don’t like the way it feels against my teeth, and it’s quite hard to keep clean as you can’t see inside.

So when Glass Dharma, who make reusable glass straws, asked me if I’d be interested in trying out their glass straws, of course I was more than happy to oblige! I’ve brought them on holiday with me, as that’s the time when I’m eating (and drinking) out more often, and at unfamiliar places where I don’t know the local straw policy!

One of the great things about Glass Dharma is they actually understand the plastic waste problem, and they don’t send their straws out in a heap of plastic bubble wrap. Each straw is packaged in a card box, and the parcel was plastic-free too. Although the straws are made from glass, it’s toughened (they use borosilicate – the strongest commercially available glass) and they offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage.

GlassDharma plastic free drinking straws plastic-free packaging

Four Glass Dharma straws, with no plastic in sight!

GlassDharma plastic-free drinking straws

They sent me four different straws to try, and a miniature brush for easy cleaning! There is a decorated straw, a bendy straw, a bubble tea straw (which is wider) and a shorter straw.

I have plastic-free living friends who question the need for straws at all. Whilst I agree that often straws are unnecessary and I always refuse disposable ones, I have found at least three situations when a straw (reusable only, of course) is preferable to no straw.

The first is when drinking smoothies or juice. Because you end up with moustache marks in the colour of your drink that can be surprisingly hard to wash off. If you ever drink out of a glass jar, all trendy like, you make end up with juice on your nose. It has happened to me. With turmeric. And with green smoothies. Those drinks stain!

The second is when ordering frozen drinks. I remember when my parents and my boyfriend’s parents met for the first time, and we all went out for dinner. Someone ordered a daiquiri. I insisted there were no straws. When the drink arrived, it was frozen (of course), and the waitress, who had remembered there was no straw requested, asked if we’d still like no straw before handing one over with a very smug expression! Now I have my own reusable straws that is something that will never happen again!

The third is when ordering a drink that requires stirring or mixing. Of course, you could request a spoon, but depending on the glass, a long-handled spoon might be needed and might not be available. My mother drinks tomato juice with tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. They always give her a plastic stirrer to mix it all together. She was under the impression that they were washed and reused, which of course they aren’t. She double-checked with the bar person who told her they get put in the recycling (which doesn’t neccessarily mean they get recycled, that depends on the company that manages the recycling; it does mean they are single use).

This possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

This is possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

The next step was taking them out for testing! I thought I’d share the work with my straw-using friends and family, to make sure they all got a workout.

First up - the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

First up – the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

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Bendy straw!

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Bendy straw again : )

I thought the glass straws were great. Glass feels better in my mouth than stainless steel (and definitely plastic!), and being able to see if it was clean was definitely a bonus that the stainless steel straw doesn’t offer. I’ve been carrying mine around in the boxes they came in, and that seems to offer enough protection. The glass straws are taller than the stainless steel one I have, which fits neatly into my To-Go Wear bamboo cutlery set, but the shorter Glass Dharma straw fits. I prefer them to the stainless steel straws and I’d definitely recommend them.

I love anything that makes zero waste (and plastic-free) living easier, and I love it when companies really get behind the reasons why people want to live this way (to avoid waste, to avoid chemicals, to protect the environment and live sustainably). Glass Dharma do this perfectly, and they also make products that are designed to last (no built-in obsolescence here).

Just to clarify, Glass Dharma sent me the straws, but my opinions are my own. As always! : )

Zero Waste Week is Coming Up…

You know me…any excuse to bang on about waste and I’m onto it! Which is why I’m super excited to be an ambassador for Zero Waste Week 2014. Zero Waste Week is…yes, you guessed it…a week of living with less waste, and it runs from 1st – 7th September.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

As part of the challenge, you need to make a waste pledge, and the theme this year is “one more thing”. I’m already reasonably close to zero waste and I had a go at a completely zero waste week back in June with reasonable success (completely zero waste meaning no landfill and no recycling – only compostable waste), so I wasn’t sure what my pledge should be at first.

What extra thing could I manage?

Then I realised, I’m actually away from home that week, and it’s always much harder to keep standards up when on holiday. So I decided I’m going to commit to not sending anything to landfill during Zero Waste Week, although recyclables are acceptable.

No matter how zero waste I try to be, there’s always something that sneaks into the rubbish bin, so I think this will be a good challenge!

Lindsay Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Week Pledge 1

Do you like my Zero Waste Week pledge? I wrote it on the back of the cardboard packaging from an empty box of pasta! (Which then went into the worm farm.)

The challenge began in the UK, but you can take part no matter where you live. The problem of waste is global, after all, so let’s make this an international challenge! There’s still plenty of time to make a pledge. Check out the Zero Waste Week website for some more inspiration, and then join us and sign up for the challenge yourself : ) There’s no excuses: you still have almost two weeks to prepare!

Once you’ve decided what your “one more thing” will be, please leave a comment below telling me what you’ve pledged. I’d love to hear from you!

How To Fly Plastic-Free (as Much as Possible)

On Tuesday night I flew from Perth, Australia to London, England to see friends and family and spend some time back in the motherland. It’s a 21 hour flight (divided into two parts – 7 hours from Perth to Hong Kong, and 12 hours from Hong Kong to London). Flying is bad for the environment, we all agree – but I was determined not to add to the huge carbon cost by generating a huge amount of waste too. The question is – is it even possible to fly waste-free?

Despite my best efforts, I still probably produced more waste in those 21 hours than I’ve generated in the entire rest of the year. But there’s definitely things you can do to keep your waste down.

Preparation – What To Think About

With flying, trying to minimise your waste can be managed in two parts. Firstly, there’s all the things that you can do before you get to the airport. Like with all zero-waste and plastic-free habits, success comes with planning. Thinking about things to bring that will reduce reliance on single-use plastic, or avoid any other unnecessary packaging. Anything that you can bring of your own will produce the need to use a plastic-wrapped version on the plane. Think cutlery, cups, water bottles, headphones, blankets, a pillow, thick socks, a toothbrush…if there is something you know you’ll need or want, it’s best to bring it with you.

Secondly, there’s the choices you make once your strapped into your seat. If you’ve had to accept something made of plastic, is it possible to re-use it to get as much life out of it as possible? Can you even make choices that use less plastic, or create less waste?

plastic headphones and blankets

Plastic-wrapped headphones and plastic-wrapped blankets awaiting our arrival on our seats – fortunately we were able to return these as we had brought our own!

What to Wear – Keeping Comfortable (and Warm)

It doesn’t matter how hot it’s going to be at your destination, or how hot it is at your departure point, it is going to be freezing on that plane once the air conditioning is cranked up to maximum. You may be really excited you’re headed to the beach, but that’s no excuse to wear skimpy shorts and flip-flops on the plane. You. Will. Freeze. Once you’re cold, you’ll be reaching for those single-use airline socks, and the plastic-wrapped blanket; your best intentions to keep the unnecessary waste at bay will be long gone.

Pack a thick pair of socks, leggings or long trousers, and a warm jumper. A scarf is useful and can double up as a pillow or second blanket. If you have space, take your own blanket and pillow too.

Headphones

Airline headphones usually have that weird double pin adapter, so you can’t plug your own headphones into the jack. Except, you can. It’s possible to buy these adaptors for just a couple of dollars. When ordering mine, I was concerned that they might arrive wrapped in plastic, so was delighted when they arrived with minimal packaging. I was less delighted when I got on the plane and found I didn’t need it for these flights – the airline had standard headphone jacks!

Airline headphone adaptors zero waste

These 2-pin headphone jacks mean I no longer have to use airline headphones which are packaged in plastic, and have foam earpieces which are thrown away after just a single use.

If you don’t want to buy an adaptor, or leave it behind, don’t hand the headphones you are given back at the end of the flight. Keep them for any other legs, and the return journey, and hand them in when you’re back home. Before I got a headphone adapter I’d do this – it reduced the number of headsets I used from 4 to 1. As each headset is packaged in plastic, that saves three plastic bags, as well as 6 replacement fuzzy ear bits (they are replaced after each use).

Food

Did you know you can take your own food onto the plane? Most flights will let you bring your own food; you just might not get it off the plane and through customs at the other end. What effort you want to go to is up to you, but if you can bring your own snacks it will mean not needing to eat those tiny packets of peanuts, or other plastic-wrapped snacks that will probably make you feel stodgy and unhealthy anyway.

Yes, your flight was probably expensive. But trying to recoup some of the cost by eating 27 packets of peanuts won’t really cut it. Honestly.

As for meals, if you have the choice to not order the meal (if you are on a charter flight), don’t. Anything you bring from home will taste better and be far more nutritious. But commercial flights often don’t give you the option, and you can’t phone up and cancel your meal. If you refuse your meal on the plane, it will go in the bin. I generally do eat the plane meals, particularly anything “fresh” (you know what I mean!), but I hand back the long-life stuff in the hope it will get passed to someone else.

Drinks – Bring Your Own Water Bottle (and a KeepCup!)

You can’t take bottled water through customs, but you can take reusable water bottles through, provided they are empty. What’s more, once you are through customs, many airports offer filtered water for refilling your bottles, so you can get on the plane with a full bottle of water. At the three airports I travelled through (In Perth, Hong Kong and London Heathrow), all had free water bottle refilling stations.

water bottle refill at airport

Water bottle refills are available after security at most airports meaning if you bring your own bottle, there’s no need for single-use plastic cups on the flight!

Once your on the plane, you can hand your empty bottle to a steward and ask them to refill it for you.

If you really want to avoid waste on the plane, just stick to drinking water rather than individual serves of spirits, soft drinks, juice and other alcohol. Bring a KeepCup for tea or coffee.

Toiletries

Current rules for international flights state that if you want to take your toiletries onto the plane, they have to be presented in a clear, resealable plastic bag. The most obvious way to avoid this is to check your toiletries in by placing them in hold luggage. If this isn’t an option for you, and you’re travelling with others, sharing will reduce the number of bags needed. If you do need to take a bag, keep it so you can reuse it when you next fly – just store it with your passport so you don’t forget!

Duty-Free

Duty-free generally means excessive packaging, but if you’re thinking you’ll pick up a couple of (glass) bottles of duty-free alcohol, many airports now insist that this is packaged in sealed plastic bags for security purposes. On top of that, the glass bottles are often packaged with foam nets, which is also made from plastic. If you’ve gone somewhere and want to bring some of the local tipple home, buy it before you fly at a local store and pack it in your hold luggage – you may even find it is cheaper than the inflated airport prices. Just remember to check the customs restrictions for your destination!

Do you have any tips for travelling plastic- and waste-free? Is there anything else you’d add to this list? Or do you find it’s easier to suspend your waste ideals for the holidays? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you think!

Would You Wash Your Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar?

Would you switch from using regular shampoo and conditioner to washing your hair with sodium bicarbonate (also called bicarbonate of soda, bicarb soda or bicarb) and vinegar? Sounds completely crazy, doesn’t it?! Why would actually do something like that?! Well, I’m gonna tell you not only who, but also why, and…what happened when I tried it out myself!

Who Would Wash Their Hair with Bicarb?

I’m not talking about eccentric old ladies with too many cats, the ones who sit at the bus stop talking to themselves. Maybe they do too; I’ve never asked. But if you think they’re the only people who would do such a thing, you’d be mistaken.

In fact, there’s so many people on board it’s even been described as a movement. It’s called the “no poo” (as in “no shampoo”) movement, but as someone who cringes at toilet humour, I try to avoid that description! No poo is bad enough, but combined with movement…nope, I just can’t (won’t) go there. However, if you Google it, you’ll be amazed how many entries pop up!

Broadly speaking, converts fit into three groups – the environmentally conscious, the health conscious, and the thrifty. Their motives are all slightly different, but the outcome is the same – clean, shiny hair!

Kate with Bicarb Vinegar Hair

This is my friend Kate Raynes-Goldie (@OceanPark), “doing a Shirley Temple”… “Getting ready for the WA Screen awards (and to think, once upon a time I had purple hair, and pink hair, and bright orange…) But, even more exciting is that as of the time this picture was taken, I hadn’t used shampoo on my hair in over a month (sodium bicarb and apple cider vinegar, baby! ” KRG

 Why Would You Wash Your Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar?

There’s actually a whole heap of reasons.

  • Shampoos can strip natural oils from the scalp, so the scalp produces more oil to compensate. This makes more regular shampooing needed to remove the oil, and becomes a vicious cycle. Feel like your hair is constantly greasy and needs washing every day? Ironically, your shampoo may be to blame. Dermatologists found that reducing shampoo use causes oil to be produced at a lower rate.
  • Shampoos typically contain synthetic ingredients and their safety is increasingly under question. Parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity, and 1,4-dioxane has been labelled a probable human carcinogen. Sodium bicarbonate and vinegar are both completely safe – we put them in our food!
  • Silicone derivatives such as dimethicone which are added to shampoo to coat the hair and make it appear shiny and more manageable are now thought to dry the hair out because they prevent moisture entering.
  • Plastic! The majority of shampoo and other haircare products come in plastic bottles, which contribute to plastic pollution in the environment. In addition, flushing these chemicals down the drain does nothing for our waterways.
  • Bicarb and vinegar are far cheaper than the majority of shampoos and conditioners, and if you’re on a budget, can help save money.
  • It’s another way to simplify. You probably already have bicarb and vinegar in the house, so why not multi-purpose them? By replacing shampoo and conditioner you’ve got two less bottles cluttering up the house, plus that’s two less things to run out of.

What will happen to my hair?!

If you’ve been using conventional commercial shampoos for a while, chances are you’ve got a lot of residue built up on your scalp, which takes time to wash away. You’ve also got to allow your sebaceous (oil) glands to slow down once they realise you’re no longer stripping the natural oils from your head.

It can take 5-7 day for your scalp to adjust, but usually 2-6 weeks is more usual to break the cycle. During this time, your hair may seem a little greasier than usual.

My Bicarb Vinegar Experiment

So what was my experience? My experiment began on 1st June this year. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and I decided that I should give it a go before making judgement!

As a bit of background, I have reasonably short (maybe shoulder-length) curly hair. I haven’t used commercial shampoos and conditioners for two years; I use natural products made locally. I only wash my hair every 2-3 days – curly hair doesn’t like too much washing!

Method:

Mix a few tablespoons of bicarb with just enough water to make a paste. Rub into your scalp and work towards the ends. Leave for a couple of minutes, and then rinse out.

Mix 1/4 cup vinegar with 1 cup (warm!) water. Tip your head back and pour onto your scalp so it runs onto your hair, and rub in with your hands. Avoid getting it into your eyes – vinegar stings!

Rinse off.

Results:

Please excuse the bad photos. There was no-one around, so I had to take them myself. Clearly I’m no master of the “selfie”…but that’s possibly a good thing…

Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed 2 Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo

The process was very simple, and my hair actually looked normal straightaway. There was no greasy hair, and no frizz problems. I was expecting a couple of weeks of bad hair days, but that never happened (or at least, no more than usual)!

It definitely needs washing less. Whereas before I would notice my hair getting greasy after a couple of days, now it will last three or four.

As for the vinegar smell… I read that the vinegar smell will dissipate after an hour. Not true! The first time I was paranoid that I was walking around smelling like fish and chips. I’ve since tried adding essential oils to the vinegar mix. Rose oil was too subtle and didn’t work. Lemon myrtle was a little overpowering. I’m currently using clove oil, which seems to be a good compromise. Lavender is often recommended but I really don’t like the smell. There’s plenty of options though, and they do work to mask the vinegar odour effectively.

Verdict: Overall, I think its great! I’m definitely a convert : )

Give it a Go!

Everyone’s hair is different, and just because it worked for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you…but that shouldn’t stop you trying! Why not give it a go?!

Now I want to hear from you! Do you already use the bicarb/vinegar method, and how have you found it? Did you try and admit defeat? Are you tempted…or is it something you’re still not even game to try?! I’d love it if you shared your experiences so please leave a comment below!

Recipe: Carrot Pulp Cracker Flatbreads

This super-simple recipe tackles two dilemmas I face when trying to live plastic-free and with zero waste – how to make your own plastic-free crackers, and what to do with leftover carrot pulp (from juicing carrots). I came up with this recipe after realising that if I wanted plastic-free snacks, I was going to have to make my own. I am yet to find crackers in plastic-free packaging.

I went through a phase of drinking carrot juice a couple of times a week, and decided to experiment with using the pulp to make my own crackers. After countless experiments, I am happy with this recipe, but I must point out that they are not crunchy. Making them crunchy just meant I had to drink a gallon of water every time I ate one, because they were so dry. This was my happy spot. They are still soft on the inside, which makes them more of a bread than a cracker – except they are nothing like bread either. I’ve called them cracker flatbreads because I have no idea what else to call them. Crackerbreads? Anyway, if you make them and think of a better name, please let me know!

If you don’t have carrot pulp, you can use grated carrot instead. The mixture will be a lot more watery, so will need longer to cook (still at the same temperatures), but will still work. You could try squeezing the juice out of the grated carrot, but then you’d be wasting delicious carrot juice!

Recipe: Carrot Pulp Cracker Flatbreads

This recipe is for a 33cm x 23cm tin.

Ingredients:

Approx 200g-250g carrot pulp
1/2 cup almonds, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup oats (for gluten-free, use gluten-free oats; or replace with 1/2 cup almonds for completely grain-free)
2tbsp flaxseeds, ground
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped, or other herbs or spices depending on your taste

Method:

Preheat the oven to 170ºC.

Line a baking tin with greaseproof paper.

In a blender, grind the soaked and rinsed almonds until small pieces. Add the oats and grind to a coarse mixture. Add the carrot pulp and blitz to combine. Add the tomatoes, oil and flax seed and blend until combined. Add the salt, pepper and nay herbs or spices that you want to add and blitz again to ensure everything is mixed together.

Tip the mix into the lined baking tray. It will look sticky. Press into the tin with a spoon.

It may seem like there isn’t enough mixture for the tin, but you want a fairly thin layer. Push right up into the edges and corners, and press the edges down firmly. You can use your hand to firmly pack the mix into the tin once it’s all spread evenly.

Mark out the cracker shapes using a knife.

raw carrot pulp mix

Empty the carrot pulp cracker mix from the blender into a tin lined with baking parchment…

raw carrot pulp cracker mix with spoon

Use a spoon to press the raw carrot pulp cracker mix into the edges of the tin…

raw carrot pulp mix squished

Compact the carrot pulp cracker mix down using your hand, and use a spoon to make sure the edges are neat…

raw carrot pulp mix with squares cut

Use a knife to mark out the carrot pulp cracker squares before they go into the oven.

Place in the oven, and leave for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, see if you can lift the baking paper lining out of the tin without breaking the crackers. If they are still too soft, pop them back into the oven for another 5 minutes or so, and keep trying until they are firm enough to handle. Lift firmly and quickly.

Lower the oven to 100ºC and put the crackers (still on the baking paper) on a grill tray in for another 15 minutes (do not wait for the oven to drop to temperature; they will be fine).

Remove from the oven, and carefully separate the crackers. You may need to use a knife to cut them. Put each one upside down on a grill tray (to aid air circulation), and return to the oven for 15 minutes to cook the other side.

carrot pulp crackers in baking tin

Golden carrot pulp crackers out of the oven…

carrot pulp crackers baked once

The underside will still be moist, so separate the crackers carefully to avoid breaking them…

Carrot pulp crackers other batch

Pop back into the oven with the damp underside facing up. Use a grill pan or rack to enure the air can get between them and they don’t burn!

Once they are ready they will be a golden colour and be dry to touch.

Remove and enjoy!

carrot pulp crackers on a plate

Carrot pulp crackers and hummus

These carrot pulp cracker flatbreads are perfect with hummus!

Tips:

  • This recipe is extremely forgiving, so feel free to change quantities, cook for longer to make them crunchier or modify however you think best. Just let me know in the comments!
  • Feel free to miss out the middle step. Cook in the oven for 30+ minutes, then take out, separate straightaway and put back in the oven for the last 15 minutes. The crackers will be more moist and harder to separate, but if you’re patient enough it will work fine!
  • If you don’t want to make crackers immediately after juicing carrots, store the pulp in a sealed container in the fridge. It will last for a couple of days.
  • The tomatoes provide the moisture. If you don’t like tomatoes, you could swap with a small courgette.
  • Brazil nuts make a great alternative to almonds. They make a much crunchier cracker. Cashew nuts don’t work as well – the crackers tend to discolour and not look as appealing.

These crackers are delicious with hummus! Follow the link to find my super-simple plastic-free hummus recipe.

Compostable plastics and bioplastics – and why they aren’t the “green” solution

Bioplastics and compostable plastics are sold to us as a green, sustainable solution. The solution to what, exactly? A solution to the tons of rubbish we send to landfill every year? A reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels? A safe alternative to the hazardous chemicals we add to conventional plastics? Actually, not quite. There’s a lot more controversy to these new plastics than you might think. Did you know that some bioplastics aren’t actually biodegradable, or even recyclable? Did you know that some compostable plastics are actually made from fossil fuels? Did you know that these plastics still require additives to infer specific properties (and to encourage degradation), and these additives may still be toxic?

Confused?

So was I. Fortunately, after a heck of a lot of reading and research, I’m feeling a lot clearer about it all, and hopefully after reading this, you will be too.

First up… Bioplastics

Bioplastics are plastics made from plants. That is all it means. Bioplastics may or may not be biodegradable, may or may not be compostable, and they may or may not be toxic as a result of other chemicals used in their manufacture.

Photo credit: Kingstonist.com via Flickr.

Photo credit: Kingstonist.com via Flickr. Making a difference…what does this statement mean? Is it biodegradable? Compostable? Recyclable? Messages like this are confusing!

The Terms: Biodegradable vs Degradable

Biodegradable means capable of being broken down by bacteria or other living organisms and returning to compounds found in nature. Degradable means capable of being broken down into smaller pieces. This is not the same as biodegradable. Photodegradable means capable of being broken down into smaller pieces by sunlight. Plastic generally breaks down into microplastics that do not break down further. Most plastics are therefore degradable, but not biodegradable.

Plastic #4 (LDPE or low density polyethylene) is made from fossil fuels; it is not biodegradable ,it is not compostable and it is not commonly recycled. Yes, it will degrade over time into thousands of micro pieces of plastic. How is that environmentally-friendly?

Plastic #4 (LDPE or low density polyethylene) is made from fossil fuels; it is not biodegradable, it is not compostable and it is not commonly recycled. Yes, it will degrade over time into thousands of micro pieces of plastic. How is that environmentally-friendly? Beware of greenwashing!

More Terms: Compostable vs Biodegradable

Compostable means capable of breaking down in a compost pile. Compostable plastic [as defined by the plastics industry] is “that which is capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site such that the material is not visually distinguishable and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with known compostable materials”.  ‘Carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass’ technically includes every substance in the known universe and this definition allows compostable plastic to leave toxic residues whilst still being classified as compostable.

A plastic may be biodegradable but not compostable, meaning it will break down more slowly than would be expected in a compost pile, and may not disintegrate.

Commercial Composting vs Home Composting

Compostable bioplastics may require industrial composting facilities to break down. This means an active composting phase of a minimum of 21 days, with temperatures remaining above 60ºC for at least 7 days, and regular turning. Industrial composting works much faster and better than home composting systems, which generally do not reach the same high temperatures and are not regulated.

It is not always clear with compostable packaging whether an item can be composted at home or whether it needs an industrial composting system, and whether such systems exist. BioPak cups state “compostable and biodegradable” on their packaging, but a quick look at their website finds the disclaimer “BioCup are compostable in a commercial compost facility; however this option is not widely available in Australia”. This means most BioCups used in Australia will end up in landfill, where they won’t break down.

Corn compostable cup after 2 years of composting

Compostable Corn Cups After 2 Years in a Compost Bin

Photo credit: Zane Selvans via Flickr. These Caltech cups are made from corn-based plastic. Caltech don’t compost these themselves (so most will be sent to landfill). To see how compostable they were, Zane put six of the cups in his very active compost pile at home (which reached 70°C a couple of times) and left them for two years. After two years, this is what they looked like.

Biodegradable Plastic

There are two categories of biodegradable plastic, and only one is made from plant materials (bioplastic). The other one is made from petrochemicals (this means fossil fuels).

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is a petroleum-based plastic made from fossil fuels (usually oil and natural gas) with metal salt additives that enables the plastic to degrade when subject to certain environment conditions. This is a two-stage process: following fragmentation, the plastic biodegrades by the action of microorganisms.

Some critics argue that oxo-biodegradable plastics are not actually biodegradable at all, because it is not clear how microorganisms actually break down the microplastics. If polymer residues remain alongside biomass, this would be disintegration rather than biodegradation.

Hydro-biodegradable plastics are plastics made from plant sources such as starch. Hydro-biodegradable plastics tend to degrade and biodegrade somewhat more quickly than oxo-biodegradable ones but the end result is the same – both are converted to carbon dioxide, water and biomass. Hydro-biodegradable plastics can be industrially composted.

PLA (polylactic acid) is the most commonly used bioplastic (polylactic acid) and costs 20% more than regular plastic. PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) is a more temperature resistant bioplastic, and the only bioplastic that will decompose in soil and waterways, but it is more than double the price of regular plastic and less common. PLA will not biodegrade in waterways or the ocean.

 What about Recycling?

Oxo-biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled.

The bioplastic PLA can, in theory, be recycled. However, it is grouped under the plastic resin code #7, or “other” along with all other plastics that do not fit into the 6 major plastic types. (Click here to read about the different plastic categories in more detail). This means it needs to be separated from the regular recycling stream which requires technology such as infrared to be sorted correctly. In fact, PLA plastics often contaminate other plastic recycling steams.

Photo credit: Fiona Moore via Flickr. A PLA 'Ingeo' bioplastic lid. Plastic type #7 (or 'other') is not recyclable.

Photo credit: Fiona Moore via Flickr. A PLA ‘Ingeo’ bioplastic lid. Plastic type #7 (or ‘other’) is not recyclable.

Additives

As with other plastics, bioplastics still require additives to infer specific properties, and these additives may not be biodegradable, or tested for safety. Natureworks, the largest manufacturer of PLA in the world, state on their website “Although PLA has an excellent balance of physical and rheological properties, many additives have been combined with it to further extend the range of properties achievable and thus optimize the material for specific end use applications.” For bottles made with their PLA ‘Ingeo’ plastic, Natureworks suggest these “basic” additives are used:

  • Toner and colourant: without additives ‘Ingeo’ is slightly yellow, and adding a toner can make the plastic colourless and more appealing to customers. Alternatively they may be used to make the plastic a different colour.
  • A reheat additive can be used to make the heating process more efficient whilst molding the bottles.
  • A UV Blocker will be required if the product is sensitive to UV light, or in order to prolong shelf life.
  • Oxygen absorbers can be added to protect products sensitive to oxygen.
  • A slip or process aid can be added to help prevent bottles scuffing and scratching during manufacture, packing and transport.

Anything else?

Manufacturing bioplastics is a complicated and energy-intensive process, and still depends on fossil fuels. In addition to the manufacturing processes themselves, energy is required to power farm machinery needed to sow and harvest crops used as the raw materials, and also for transportation. Fossil fuels are also used to make fertilisers and pesticides to used to increase crop yields.

Another question often raised is whether it is appropriate to use vast areas of land suitable for agriculture to grow crops to make plastic rather than for food production.

What about genetically modified food? NatureWorks, the largest PLA producer in the world, is an American company that uses corn to manufacture bioplastic. 30% of all corn grown in the USA is genetically modified, meaning GM corn is used in the manufacture of NatureWorks bioplastic. Whilst the final products are chemically altered and free from GM products, these bioplastics are still supporting the GM industry.

The Verdict?

Whether we’re talking conventional plastics or bioplastics, there’s nothing green or sustainable about using these materials for a matter of minutes and then throwing it away. Whilst bioplastics may have the potential to be composted and decrease the landfill burden, their manufacture and transportation is still hugely dependent on fossil fuels, and they still contain undeclared additives that may leach into our food, or our soils. The reality is that most of these bioplastics don’t end up in composting facilities, but head to straight to landfill, or worse, end up as litter.

If you truly want to be sustainable, don’t use plastic, and don’t use bioplastics either, especially for single-use disposable items. Simply bring your own.

Zero Waste Week…the Halfway Point

I’m halfway through my Zero Waste Week challenge, and things have been going pretty waste-free, although I must confess – some waste has managed to sneak in!

Things went well on Tuesday. I received my second thermal paper BPA-lined eftpos receipt (to tell if a receipt is printed on thermal paper, you can rub a coin or your fingernail on the paper – if it darkens then it is thermal paper). Much smaller than the Post Office one, but still waste.

receipt 2

No more waste came until Tuesday night, when one of our bamboo toothbrushes died. The thing with bamboo toothbrushes is that they decide when they’re fit for the bin, by releasing all of their bristles into your mouth. Yuck. Loose bristles are not pleasant. Once the bristles start falling out there’s no way I’m going to continue using it. Seriously, it’s that bad. Usually the toothbrush would end up in the bin – ironic as it’s meant to be environmentally friendly. Thing is, I can’t compost it because of the plastic bristles. What I could do is chop the head off and try to compost the handle. Alternatively, I’m trying to soak the brush to see if I can loosen the rest of the bristles, so I can separate them and save on waste.

The old toothbrush on the left, and a new one

The old toothbrush on the left, and a new one

Soaking to see if I can loosen the bristles and compost the wooden part.

Soaking to see if I can loosen the bristles and compost the wooden part.

Wednesday came, and we received our toilet roll order – all 48 rolls of it! The box will get reused, and the paper and rolls get added to the wormfarm.Toilet RollI should probably add that my zero waste week does not extend to toilet paper. I’m still using regular toilet paper in all its single-use disposable glory! Even if it isn’t being sent to landfill, technically it’s waste as it’s going into the toilet, but reusable cloths are not happening in this house any time soon. Even if I was up for it (and I’m not), there is no way I’d convince my boyfriend!

I wonder if I had a compost bin whether I could/would compost my toilet paper?

We also received our first mail of the week – a letter with a label for changing the address on my boyfriend’s drivers license. In the past I’d recycle it, but now I’m going to feed it to the worms. What I’m wondering is what should happen to the cellophane window on the envelope?

post

There seems to be some debate about whether the windows break down in a worm farm. According to this discussion, some do, and some don’t. In the interest of Zero Waste Week I’m going to give it a go.

We invited our neighbour over for dinner on Wednesday, and of course I cooked. I made everything from scratch: dahl, aloo gobi, coconut rice (I’m stlll trying to perfect a DIY coconut milk recipe) and parathas. As I’ve said many times, I buy everything in bulk, but for some reason we had a bag of wholemeal flour, and I finished it off.

parathas
empty flour bag

(I must have had it for a while, because I notice it was technically out-of-date: ah well!) So what did I do with it? Shredded it up into strips, to make wormfarm bedding! These guys have to have somewhere to rest in between all this extra eating I’m making them do!

worm bedding

Whilst cooking, I had to send my boyfriend out for last minute ingredients. As well as the things I requested (he took some old bags to use) he also bought some milk, and some completely illegal and unrequested chocolate licorice managed to sneak its way in. Not waste, but definitely a waste of money! That white bag cost almost $4!

Wed Shopping

We try to buy our milk from Sunnydale, a local dairy that accept the glass bottles back for refilling. Sadly, they can’t take the lids back. Our local store used to stock this but has recently stopped. They sell a different brand of milk in glass which doesn’t operate a bottle-return policy. If it’s an emergency, we buy this one. Well, my boyfriend does. I make my own nut milk which is always plastic and waste-free!

Luckily, Sunnydale use the same glass bottles as the other dairy, so we sneakily take them back to Sunnydale for reusing. Unfortunately this other brand uses a nasty plastic sticker which we have to peel off in order to take the bottle back (Sunnydale request you keep their labels on). So once the milk is finished, we will be left with a plastic sticker and a metal lid.

I did think about asking our neighbour not to bring anything (because I was worried about the waste!) but in the end I decided not to…and he came to the door with a bottle of red wine! We rarely drink wine at home these days (Glen drinks the occasional beer and I have a really exciting waste-free beer story to share in my next post!) but it is nice to share a bottle with friends. Much better than bringing a box of individually wrapped additive-filled confectionery!

Friend for Dinner

I could have demanded he take the bottle home with him to help make my Zero Waste Challenge look more successful (I bet he would have thought that was weird – as neighbours we share the same bin system!) but I decided that would be cheating. So the wine bottle and lid is our first big waste item.

As the week rolls to an end we have another challenge coming up – we have a friend coming to stay on Friday for a few weeks. (We’ve got a spare room now so we might as well make the most of it!) Not that the friend will be challenging – the challenge will be sticking to the Zero Waste Week rule with an extra (jetlagged) person in the house!

But you know me, I like a challenge, and I’m feeling confident! Looking forward to the end of the week!

Zero Waste Week…The First Day

I have declared this week Zero Waste Week, and I am attempting to generate no waste at home. This means NO landfill rubbish and NO recycling (in case you’re wondering why no recycling, I wrote this post explaining why recycling isn’t the green solution we’re led to believe).

So at the weekend I dusted off the bokashi bin that was donated to me by a friend rather more months ago than I’d like to admit, on the condition that I blogged about it. Better late than never! Most of my food scraps go to my worm farm, but lemon peel, onion skins, eggshells and other bulky fruit and veg waste usually go in the bin (the worm farm is pretty small) – and I lament not being able to compost.

Installed Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bin installed in the kitchen. The donated bokashi mix comes in plastic – if this is something I want to keep up with, I’m going to have to learn how to make my own!

Not any more! Or at least, not this week. I’m going to give the bokashi bin a go (I will write a blog about it once I’ve used it for a while and can offer some wisdom!) and see how that works out for me.

So here is my bin system emptied and ready to go on Monday morning:

The Clean Bin Project

The black metal bin is for recycling. The paper-lined bin is for food waste – I lined it out of habit. We use the community newspaper to line once it’s been read. If it doesn’t need changing, then it doesn’t count as waste! The small caddy is scraps for the worm farm, and lined with Who Gives A Crap? toilet paper wrappers (read about that here). The bokashi bin is the shiny new addition to the line-up.

And we’re off!

I thought it might be useful to give you some context as we start the week, so here is a picture of my fridge:

Monday Fridge

Our vegetable box was delivered last Thursday (we currently get one large box a fortnight) so there’s still some fruit and left. The saucepan contains soup, the tin contains a cake and the glass Pyrex containers hold leftovers. The milk bottles actually contain cashew milk which I made on Monday morning (the recipe is here).

Note: yes, some of my veggies are in plastic containers! Slowly but surely I’m replacing them with glass and stainless steel, but sometimes I still have to use the plastic ones. I never use them for leftovers, only raw veg that will be washed, peeled and cooked.

I can’t really take a picture of our pantry as we no longer have one since the move! At some point we will get something, but for now half of my jars are living in a storage crate, which doesn’t make for good photos.

The pantry did need some restocking though, so yesterday morning I headed to Fremantle. Before shopping I met a friend for coffee (dine-in of course!); fortunately the shop only print receipts on request so I was still waste free.

I headed to a different shop to pick up some things – using my own bags. They didn’t print receipts unless requested either. I reused paper bags that I brought from home: I’m reusing until they disintegrate/get stained/turn gross, and then they will go to the worm farm.

groceryshopping day 1

Once home, these get stored in glass jars…except the brazil nuts and coconut, which got turned into cake.

Cake Prep
Cake

I used greaseproof paper to line the tin (I don’t always, but for this cake it’s necessary). I tend to clean my paper and reuse it if I can (as much because I’m too lazy to cut new circle shapes every time); usually I only get a couple of uses and this was the second go. If I can’t salvage the paper, it will go to the worms.

Cake paper

The Dilemma

I needed to go to the Post Office to send two parcels, and for this I received a receipt. My dilemma is this: it’s a thermal till receipt (you can tell because it’s slightly shiny and sort-of slippery) and thermal till receipts are coated with BPA. I’ve talked about why BPA is bad before, and it’s often recommended that we don’t recycle thermal till paper as it ends up as toilet paper, food packaging or even napkins, and these become contaminated with BPA.

Some people argue that because it is such a small amount it doesn’t contaminate the waste stream significantly. I have to confess, I currently recycle my receipts. But put them in the worm farm? Hmhm…I’m not sure I want to do that. So whether it goes to landfill or to recycling, it’s still in the waste pile.

I think I need to get into the habit of refusing receipts, and leaving them in the shop!Thermal Receipt BPA

What I’ve learned so far…

  • It feels good getting the bokashi bin going. I hate throwing all that food waste in the bin, especially as it’s mostly organic and I’ve heard that organic waste makes better compost!
  • My default action is definitely to go for the bin! When I sweep the floor, or wipe food from the counters I head for the bin rather than the worm farm,and this is making me think twice.
  • I need to start training myself to refuse till receipts. Practice makes perfect! We definitely have far too much paper in our house.
  • I have a feeling that the worm farm is going to struggle with the extra waste (particularly cardboard) and I’m going to have a think about whether I can steathily install a compost bin in the lawn area at the front of our building.

So far so good! I’m midway through Tuesday and nothing has gone disasterously wrong yet…but will it continue to go swimmingly as the week progresses?

I’ll keep you posted!