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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!

Fair Trade: what it means, what it does, and how you play a part

Last Friday I attended the Fairly Fashionable? event, where local fashion designers created garments using Fair Trade fabric to raise awareness of ethical fashion. I was telling some new friends about it, and one of them asked me:

“What is Fair Trade?”

Good point! Whilst you probably know (or could guess!) it means that workers getting paid a fair price for the goods that they produce, there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

What does “Fair Trade” Mean?

Fair Trade is all about better prices, yes, but it’s also about decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.

The movement came about after people recognized that conventional trade wasn’t providing fair wages and sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. Poverty and hardship make these workers more vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their choices, access to markets and negotiating power.

The idea with Fair Trade is that farmers or workers are paid a higher price for their goods or services, and this cost is passed onto the consumer, who will pay more for a product that has been fairly traded.

There’s no one definition of Fair Trade; there are many different organisations who promote Fair Trade, and they have different standards and criteria. The 10 principles listed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), which Fair Trade organisations are expected to follow, are excellent for explaining what Fair Trade companies across the globe strive to achieve.

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade

Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Principle 2: Transparency and Accountability

Principle 3: Fair Trading Practices

Principle 4: Payment of a Fair Price

Principle 5: Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association

Principle 7: Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building

Principle 9: Promoting Fair Trade

Principle 10: Respect for the Environment

(You can read a full description of these principles here)

How does Fair Trade Work?

Fair Trade has existed since WWII, but was more focused on handicrafts in the beginning, with products sold solely from Fair Trade shops (also called worldshops) and churches. From the 1980s there was a shift towards the fair trade of agricultural products, and the idea of certification came about.

Certification was introduced in 1988; the first certified Fair Trade product was coffee.The idea behind certification was that it allowed consumers to recognize which products gave farmers a premium price for their crops and followed Fair Trade principles. This meant products could be sold in mainstream shops such as supermarkets rather than specific Fair Trade shops. Certification has allowed the reach of Fair Trade to grow massively, and more customers means more farmers can benefit.

How does certification work? An independent organisation certifies that the commodities used in a product meet Fair Trade standards, and manufacturers pay for the right to use a logo. This tells consumers that the product meets certification standards for Fair Trade.

The FAIRTRADE Mark

The FAIRTRADE Mark is probably the most famous Fair Trade logo: it’s currently used in over 50 countries and is attached to over 27,000 products. It’s an independent certification mark that guarantees a product has been produced according to international Fair Trade standards. It shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved.

Fairtrade logos

Certification schemes with logos that people recognize mean that products can be stocked in supermarkets where high volumes of products can be sold. It is estimated 90% of consumers trust the FAIRTRADE Mark – and this confidence means higher sales.

Whilst the FAIRTRADE Mark is the world’s biggest Fair Trade certification scheme, it’s not the only one. Different certifiers will have different standards and procedures, but all promote Fair Trade.

Different Fairtrade logos

Logos from Fair Trade USA (left and second left), the Fairtrade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization

Not all Fairly Traded products are certified, either. Remember that participating in a Fair Trade certification scheme costs money. Some organisations that work with small cooperatives to produce Fair Trade products may not have the resources to certify their products; but that does not mean they don’t adhere to Fair Trade principles. Most businesses selling Fair Trade products want to be as transparent as possible, so if in doubt, just ask questions.

What Can We Do to Support Fair Trade?

Buy Fair Trade products! Simple as that! The most common products are coffee, chocolate, sugar and bananas, and you’ll be able to find these in supermarkets. Health food stores and independent grocers will probably have a wider range.

Start with just one product that you buy that has a Fair Trade alternative, and make the switch. Last year I switched to only buying Fair Trade chocolate. The market for Fair Trade products continues to grow every year, and the more we support it, the more this growth will continue.

Fairtrade InfographicFor more information on Fair Trade, and to see how you can support Fair Trade in your area, check out these great websites:

World Fair Trade Organization
Fairtrade International
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand
Fairtrade Foundation (UK)
Fair Trade USA

Do you already buy Fair Trade products? Are you new to Fair Trade but willing to make the switch? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

The best $199 ever spent?

One of the best lessons I’ve learned about living with less is to avoid looking at adverts. Tricky, yes, because they’re everywhere. I don’t have a television, and I don’t tend to read magazines or newspapers, so I don’t get exposed from these sources…

But I walk past billboards every day, buses and taxis drive past me with adverts emblazoned across them whenever I step out of the house.

I see them at shops, the cinema, in stairwells, on the back of public toilet doors. The internet is rife with them too, and I even get them delivered to my inbox hidden amongst other content.

Avoiding catalogues and brochures (both printed and electronic) is one way I avoid advertising exposure. These adverts are more dangerous – not only do they try to make you desire something, but they tell you the price and where to buy it too! If we do get any through our mailbox, they go straight in the recycling ( and I curse the fact I still haven’t got round to putting a “no advertising material accepted” sticker on the box).

If I don’t know what this season’s hot look or colour is, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I conform (which, no doubt, I don’t). It’s unlikely anyone else does either. Advertising works by making us feel inadequate; that’s what sells stuff. Let’s face it, these catalogues know how to get to our hearts, with their gorgeous models and flattering photography, and beautiful, clever and quirky products. It isn’t easy to just look and feel nothing. The mind starts to wander. Maybe my life would be better if I purchased a blue-and-white stripy themed dinner service. With the matching stripy napkins. So classic, and the nautical theme is just so…in! Hmmm.

Yesterday we had a whole heap of them stuffed through the door. (We really must get a “no junk mail” sticker.) I thrust them into the recycling. Then I noticed my boyfriend was reading one. I ask him what he’s looking at: it’s a sport’s catalogue. I frown. He has a bit of a penchant for purchasing bicycle accessories at the moment, so this could be dangerous. Then he hands it to me. “Here, check this out!”

I look at the picture, puzzled. “But it’s a box!”

“Yep”, he says. “And it costs $200!”

Plyobox small

How ridiculous. Really. A box made of plywood (or is the fact it’s called the Plyo Box a strange coincidence?) that costs $199. Do these fitness types really need such a box? Won’t the stairs do? Or a sturdy chair? Or a wall? For the man who has everything…everything, that is, except common sense?

I was thinking about this today when I was cutting up some crackers I’d made. I was using a knife, and I was thinking about pizza cutters, and how unnecessary they are – unless perhaps, you run a pizza shop. I used to have a pizza cutter, many years ago, and I used it on the few occasions that I ate pizza, until it broke. Then I had to cut my pizza with a knife.

I’m going to offer you some wisdom here, and I come from a place of experience – cutting your pizza with a knife does not affect your enjoyment of eating said pizza. A pizza cutter does not increase your happiness (but it will probably piss you off when it breaks). Profound, huh?! My knife, by the way, is still going.

That box and the pizza cutter aren’t actually so dissimilar, I realised, except one costs $199 and one costs $9. Both are completely unnecessary, yet price makes a huge difference to our perception: it’s a lot harder to justify spending $199 than to is to spend $9! What if we didn’t consider price at all – we only considered if something was necessary or unnecessary?

I wonder how many people who look at the Plyo box and laugh at its pointlessness are pretty sure they have a pizza cutter lurking at the back of their kitchen drawer? (I may not have a pizza cutter, but my kitchen drawer is no mimimalist’s dream, either. We have a cheese knife, I discovered the other day. That is possibly even less useful than a pizza cutter!)

Which brings me back to advertising. These ads are trying to sell us things we don’t own yet. We all have pizza cutters and cheese knives and other unnecessary items in our homes, but if we could just stop looking at adverts we wouldn’t keep buying more to add to them. How many times have you thought you needed something after seeing an advert? (Quick test: before seeing the advert, had you been lamenting that no-one had invented this item you now think you want? No? Then you don’t need it now.)

5 Ways to Keep the Ads at Bay

We can’t walk around all day with our eyes closed, but there’s a few things we can do to reduce our exposure to adverts:

  • Get a “no junk mail” sticker, and stop those ads reaching your mailbox. (Yes, point taken. It’s on the to-do list.)
  • Any catalogues, brochures and flyers that you do receive, throw straight in the recycling.
  • If you watch TV, try to avoid the ad breaks. If there’s too many, simply turn the sound off. It’s amazing how much less notice you take if you can’t hear them. Try it!
  • Do you subscribe to any magazines that you don’t really read? What about ones that are basically a big shopping advert? Can you cancel them? (Libraries stock magazines if you still want the occasional hit – and they take all the advertising material out!)
  • Unsubscribe from retailer newsletters, or anything else that tries to sell you stuff too frequently. You really won’t miss anything.

Next time you see an advert and feel yourself getting drawn in, just remember the Plyo box. Is it really going to be the best $199 you’ve ever spent?

Tell me what you think! Do you have any tips for avoiding advertising? Do you find it easy or are you swept up by the clever marketing tricks? Can you stick to only necessary purchases? Do you think I’ve got it wrong, and clearly the Plyo box is the best invention you’ve ever seen?! I’d love you to leave your thoughts in the comments!

Do you know what’s in your food? (And can you trust your supermarket?)

If we all knew what went in our food and connected with where it came from, if we all shopped locally and supported independent shops rather than the big supermarkets and if we all cooked a little more from scratch, rather than buying products in packets containing dubious ingredients, then in my mind, the world would be a better place. We’d be healthier, we’d be more connected to the seasons, our food systems would be more sustainable, and local economies would thrive.

But the problem is, supermarkets dominate the landscape, we’re short of time, and so supermarkets seem like a good option. The choices are endless. There’s a lot of “choice” on those shelves that isn’t even real food. Products made with fake ingredients, pumped with preservatives and then packaged and marketed in a way that make them look enticing, often with clever and emotive language, and of course, pictures.

Most of us don’t really stop and consider all this choice. It’s overwhelming. We put our trust in the supermarkets and the companies that sell the products lining the shelves. We let them choose for us. We don’t realise that in many cases we’re being misled. Just because something looks healthy, or comes from the “healthy” aisle, or has “natural” printed all over the box, it doesn’t mean that it is.

We don’t know what’s really in those packets because we don’t take the time to study the ingredients. Most of us don’t have the time. Even if we did, spending hours in the supermarket reading all the labels may not be our idea of fun. But filling our bodies with man-made ingredients, chemicals and preservatives isn’t much fun either, and it certainly does nothing for our health. I’ve thought of a solution. Rather than encouraging you to read all the labels next time you need to buy groceries, I thought I’d make things a little bit easier. I’m bringing the labels to you.

The Bakery Aisle

There’s nothing more ironic than the “treats” lining the bakery aisle, all fillers, preservatives,  mystery ingredients and refined sugar.

tempting temptingingredientsIngredients are always listed starting with the ingredient that there is most of, in descending order. Which means these cupcakes have more sugar and water than anything else. Yes, water. In a cupcake. By adding emulsifiers, water can be mixed with oil and stabilised. It’s a sneaky way to bulk out a product on the cheap. junk15 junk16These muffins contain more flour than sugar, and more oil than water, but they’re still making use of the emulsifiers to bulk out the product with non-ingredients. You might notice at the bottom of the label that they have been “Thawed for your convenience”. So these have been made somewhere else, cooked, frozen and transported, and then defrosted in order to sit on the shelves as a bakery product. junk20Everything about these is wrong. There’s 24 E numbers, a high water content, palm oil is a listed ingredient (demand for palm oil is causing large-scale deforestation and devastating the orangutan population) as well as thickeners, preservatives and added flavourings.

The “Health Food” Aisle

To distinguish between this junk food and all the other junk food lining the shelves elsewhere in the store, the supermarket has labelled this section “health food”.

healthaisleThere is a high proportion of gluten-free snacks, but being gluten-free doesn’t automatically qualify something to be healthy. Nor does the label “organic”.

jnk2 jnk1I tried to count the ingredients of these crackers several times, but had to give up – there’s just too many. Not to mention the brackets within brackets within brackets. Food should not be this confusing.jnk3 jnk4 Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids are synthetic (man-made) fats. They are also E numbers (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides is also called E472e). Shoppers often avoid E numbers, so manufacturers write the names of the ingredients out in full to make the product appear to be more natural.jnk5 jnk6These organic vanilla bars contain brown rice, sugar, oil and salt. In fact, they contain 5 types of sugar and 2 types of oil. And that’s pretty much it. Doing the maths, these bars are 35% rice, so they are 65% oil and sugar. Yuck. They are a great example of how organic doesn’t necessarily equal healthy.

The Drinks Chiller

Adequate breakfast solutions? Hmm…jnk7 jnk8This “chocolate-flavoured beverage” has 0.5% cocoa. That’s less than 2 grams in a 350ml drink. The four main ingredients are water, sugar, powder and oil. Because the vitamins listed do not state their whole food origin, it is extremely likely that they are synthetic. Synthetic vitamins are not absorbed by our bodies as easily as natural vitamins, and don’t behave in the same way. Synthetic B6 is actually made from petroleum. jnk9 jnk10I find these ingredients crazy. If you want to drink mocha flavoured milk for breakfast, why wouldn’t you add some coffee and a spoonful of cacoa powder to your own milk in the morning, and add some sugar if you like it sweet? Why go to the shops and pay extra for milk solids, modified starch, emulsifier, flavours, salt and artificial sweeteners?jnk11 jnk12Interestingly, this pack claims a serving size is 250ml, whereas the serving size for the chocolate milk in the previous pictures was 600ml. By making the serving sizes smaller than are probably realistic, the calories, sugar and fat content seem much smaller. One serving of this contains 21.25g of sugar. But if the serving size was comparable with the other product and was 600ml, there would be 51g of sugar per serving!

So what are the solutions?

Don’t despair! If you’ve been reading this and feeling guilty, despondent, or overwhelmed, there’s really no need; there are plenty of alternative options and choices out there. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful.

  • Make your own at home. I don’t mean making everything from scratch, all the time, if that’s not your thing. Figure out what works for you, in terms of what you like to eat, your time and your skill level. There’s always options. If you can’t bake, and haven’t got the patience to learn, what about simple raw desserts like this one?
  • Get yourself a blender. It doesn’t need to be expensive or even new (you can pick one up from somewhere like Gumtree with minimal outlay) and you can make smoothies, milkshakes and even desserts (like this chocolate mousse) in minutes. I use mine almost every day and I wouldn’t be without it.
  • Think outside the supermarket. If you like the convenience of ready-made, look around your local area for a bakery, a deli and a butcher/fishmonger that make things from scratch and sell them fresh. My local bakery bakes their bread every morning on site. The local butcher makes ready-to-go meals daily, and the fishmonger sells chowder, sushi and marinara mix in addition to the usual fish.
  • Farmers’ markets are the perfect place to find local producers, and a great place to pick up all kinds of delicious treats. Usually you’ll get the chance to talk to the people who actually make the products so you can find out what goes into them, hear about new things they are planning to try out, and even make your own suggestions.
  • If you’re time-poor, vegetable box schemes are a great option and often deliver far more than fruit and vegetables to your door. Riverford in the UK deliver organic pies, tarts, soups and vegetable burgers as well as dairy products and pantry staples, in addition to their core business of fruit and vegetables.
  • If you really need convenience options and can’t ditch the supermarket, try the freezer aisle. Freezing food is a way of preserving it, because of this frozen foods don’t need fake ingredients and extra preservatives to prolong their shelf life. That’s not to say there isn’t some junk in this department too, but it can be a better alternative than the chilled aisles.
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you do buy and eat something rubbish, and definitely don’t give up. Just because you ate one Dunkin’ Donut, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and doomed to eat Dunkin’ Donuts forevermore. Or that because you ate one, you may as well finish off another 11. Or because you ate one, that you’ll never be healthy/be able to quit the supermarket/be perfect etc etc. Accept that we all have moments of weakness, forgive yourself, dust yourself off, and try again.

Whilst I do think it’s important that we realise what’s in our food, that’s not to say that there’s not a place for convenience – we all have busy lives. But the better our food choices are, the better we feel – both inside and out. Choosing real food helps support farmers, growers and local businesses. Ultimately it gives us more options, better quality, and safer, healthier, more nutritious food, whilst encouraging farming and production systems that don’t deplete soils, damage the environment or harm wildlife. Who wouldn’t want that?

What do you think about convenience foods? Do you have anything you struggle with, or any great tips or things that have worked for you in avoiding junk? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!