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The JOCO cup: a reuseable coffee cup made from glass

It’s not often that I see a product that I think is worth raving about. After all, we can’t save the planet by buying more stuff, no matter how great the eco credentials claim to be. But when I came across the JOCO cup I thought it was worth sharing.

I’ve talked before about how takeaway coffee cups are made from fossil fuels (yep, that’s where plastic comes from) and are creating a huge landfill problem. The same goes for those biodegradeable ones that actually need commercial composters to biodegrade (you can read that post here).

The way I see it, there’s two simple solutions. Dine in, or bring your own reuseable cup.

I bought a KeepCup, which is made of durable plastic. I’ve used it countless times. I was torn between buying the KeepCup, which appealed to me because its cups are standardised sizes (8oz, 12oz and 16oz, the same as disposable coffee cups), and buying a non-plastic alternative. I would rather have purchased a stainless steel one (or even ceramic) but they all seemed to come in bizarre and impractical sizes. (If your takeaway coffee cup is too tall to fit underneath an expresso machine, it rather defeats the point of having it, don’t you think?!)

The downside of the plastic KeepCup is that it does retain the taste and smell of the previous drink. No matter how many times I wash it out. Soaking overnight with a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate does a pretty good job of removing it, but wouldn’t it be better if I could wash it once and be done with it? The plastics used in the KeepCup are polypropylene for the cup (type 5) and LDPE (type 4) for the lid, which are both considered safer types of plastic. They thought that about plastic with BPA and phthalates once though. This type of plastic isn’t easily recycled either, so disposal will be an issue at the end of its life. Reuseable plastic is better than disposable plastic, but the best would be no plastic at all.

So I’ve been quietly waiting for KeepCup to bring out a stainless steel alternative.

It seems like JOCO have beaten them to it. Not with stainless steel, but another non-toxic material – glass. I wish the JOCO cup had been around when I was in the market for one. It truly seems to be the best of both worlds. The JOCO cup is made out of glass, with a silicone band so your fingers don’t get scalded. It’s the only glass coffee cup I’ve ever seen. Plus they come in proper barista sizes: 8oz and 12oz. And they’re easy on the eye, if stylishness is your thing.

JOCO cupThe other thing I love is that they sell replacement glass, bands and lids so if you lose any of the bits (or the glass breaks) you can replace them without having to buy a whole new one. This may seem obvious, but often companies make it very hard to buy replacement parts. If you’ve ever broken the glass in a coffee plunger and tried to buy a replacement you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I don’t have a JOCO cup, and I haven’t tried using one. I won’t be getting one either, because my KeepCup still has plenty of life left and to get rid of it would be wasteful. Discarding old products to buy new ones, however green they may be, is not the sustainable option.

But I know there’s a few people out there who are taking part in Plastic Free July, and maybe haven’t got round to buying a reusable coffee cup of their own yet. In which case, here’s another option for you to consider.

The humble teabag: maybe not so innocent?

I’ve always used teabags. I like their convenience. That’s the thing, though. Convenience is a word that I’ve come to be suspicious of. After all, convenience is what created the plastic pollution problem that we have today. In particular, convenience foods and all its unnecessary plastic packaging. Like pre-peeled bananas on Styrofoam trays and cling wrapped with more plastic to save us all the ‘hassle’ of peeling them. (Think I’m joking?! Check out the Time magazine article about it here.)

I was very pleased when I found out that Twining teabags do not come in a cellophane wrapped box, nor do they come with that plastic-disguised-as-foil inner packaging inside the box. Most other brands have one (or both) of these. Even those ‘silk’ teabags are actually made of plastic. But Twinings offer me plastic-free teabags, hurrah!

I’d been using these plastic free teabags for a while, and I noticed that the thread is held together by a tiny metal staple. Have you ever noticed that? My box of 100 teabags has 100 staples. How are they stapled together? Is there a person sitting in a dark room somewhere stapling teabags together? Has someone invented a machine that can staple the stringy bit to the tea bag with no physical labour required?

Let’s think about this. Metal comes out of the ground. It’s mined. It’s then got to be made into a staple. It’s got to be transported to the teabag factory. Then, somehow, it’s got to be attached to the teabag along with the stringy bit. And all of this occurs to save me the inconvenience of having to remove the teabag from my cup with a spoon. Is that not a tiny bit ridiculous?

Before you point out that other teabag brands do not have staples, or even strings, whilst I know that’s true, I am yet to find any that don’t have plastic cellophane packaging, or plastic ‘foil’ wrapping, or some other unnecessary packaging.

There’s a simple solution of course. Switch to loose leaf tea.

 

teajpgOver the last few months I’ve slowly been using up my teabag stash, and replacing them with loose leaf tea. The other great thing about this is that loose leaf tea tastes far better. There are a number of grades of tea and the lowest is called dust (or fannings) – it’s this stuff that usually ends up in teabags. If you buy loose leaf tea you’re buying a better quality product.

Switching from teabags to loose leaf tea may not save the planet, but it reduces packaging, prevents plastic-rage (when you get home to discover that the item you were so sure was plastic-free was hiding it all along), and makes a far better brew. What’s not to love?

I was on the radio for Plastic Free July!

plastic-free-july-logo-banner-lgeWhen I spoke at the Plastic Free July launch back in April (I wrote about it here) about my experience of Plastic Free July in 2012, I was also asked to record a brief interview with radio station RTR FM.

Well, this week my interview was aired!

Quite exciting, as I’ve never been on the radio before.

I have no idea how to add media files to the blog – or if it’s even possible – so I’m just going to share the link. If you’re interested, click here to hear the Understorey Plastic Free July programme recorded by RTR FM.

Happy listening!

Plastic-Free Sweetcorn (How To Remove The Kernels + Freeze)

Some things seem so glaringly obvious with the benefit of hindsight. I would never have thought of processing my own sweetcorn cobs if it hadn’t been for giving up plastic last year. Until then, I had always purchased bags of sweetcorn from the freezer aisle in the supermarket. I didn’t use it often, but it was one of those staples I liked to have on hand, for when my fridge was empty and the shops were shut.

The freezer equivalent of the tins of tomatoes that I liked to have on hand in the pantry.

So Plastic Free July came along last year, and out went plastic food packaging, and so did frozen sweetcorn. I wasn’t about to buy the tinned stuff, because it’s filled with added sugar and salt, and the tins are lined with BPA plastic. Plus I always think it has a grey tinge that fresh and frozen corn just doesn’t have, which rather puts me off.

I resigned myself to only eating sweetcorn for the month of the year when it comes into season and I could buy fresh corn cobs. Along came the season, and with it more corn than I knew what to do with. And it occurred to me that I could process my own cobs and freeze the sweetcorn, plastic free! Why this epiphany took so long to come to me I have no idea. But at least it did, as I now have a supply of frozen sweetcorn in my freezer that should last me until next season.

It still makes me smile when I think about how obvious it was.

So if you’re like I was, and have no idea how to process corn, read on. If you were on that page years ago, I hope you feel a sense of satisfaction that I have finally caught up!

How to Freeze Sweetcorn

An average cob makes approximately 150g frozen sweetcorn.

corn1jpgRemove the green husks and as much of the silky stuff as you can.

Place the corn in a pan of unsalted boiling water (wait until it is boiling before adding the corn) and allow to boil for 5 minutes. This is called blanching.

Remove the corn with tongs and place immediately into a bowl of icy water. This will stop them from cooking. Let them sit for at least 5 minutes, until cool to touch.

To cut the kernels off, hold the cob upright and using a sharp knife, cut downwards in strips. The corn will fall off in chunks but is easily broken up with your fingers.

corn5jpg

corn10jpgcorn9jpg Break up any clumps with your fingers. Place in a suitable container. Try to pack the containers as tightly as possible to minimise freezer burn.

corn12jpgFreeze until you want to eat!

A month without.

Today is the 1st July. I quite like that it also happens to be a Monday. It feels like an even better day for the start of new things. Plastic Free July has started, so it’s a month without plastic. As we don’t buy anything much in plastic these days, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it’ll be good to keep us on our toes and keep track of anything that does come our way, which we will put in the dilemma bag. The dilemma bag is for all the plastic we just can’t do without, or the sneaky plastic that thwarts our attempts to buy plastic-free. When we first gave up plastic, we kept everything in a dilemma bag but we had nowhere to keep it so after a few months we decided to stop. But we’ll resume it for the month and see how much (hopefully none!) we accumulate. Read more

Blogging, sustainability…and blogging about sustainability

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be about my sustainability journey. I wanted not only to be able to keep a record but also to share it with the wider world. I felt like I was at a significant turning-point in my life and I wanted to write to help guide my thoughts. So far, I’m really enjoying both writing and being able to connect with a whole online community that I never really knew existed before. Read more

Plastic recycling: What Those Numbers Actually Mean

With Plastic Free July just around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to talk about plastic recycling, and why it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Recycling gives the impression that you can consume something, and then dispose of the packaging in a responsible manner, free of all guilt. But whilst recycling is a great last resort when the only other option is landfill, it should be remembered that it is the LAST resort. Have you ever heard the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’? There’s a reason that ‘recycle’ comes last! Now there’s a new mantra that is gaining popularity. This one goes ‘REFUSE, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle’. And that is what Plastic Free July is all about. Rather than worrying about disposing of plastic packaging responsibly, ask the question: do I actually need it in the first place?

If you’ve been happily consuming all that plastic because you know that you’ll recycle it responsibly when you’re done, maybe this post will change your mind. I used to be the same. But once I started to understand what plastic recycling actually meant, I began questioning everything I bought and I drastically reduced the plastic in my life.

So here is a guide to the different types of plastics, what they are used for and what they are recycled into – if they can actually even be recycled.

Let’s dispell a couple of myths!

Firstly, if you’re under the impression that your old plastic bottles can be recycled into shiny new plastic bottles, unfortunately you’re wrong! Plastic isn’t technically recycled, it’s downcycled, meaning it’s used to create a product of inferior quality and productivity. So whilst glass can (in theory) be recycled an infinite amount of times, plastic can only go through two or three cycles.

Secondly, just because you see the ‘recycling arrow’ on your plastic packaging it doesn’t mean that it’s actually recyclable. The arrow is meaningless. The number tells us what the plastic is made from, and so you can work out if it can be recycled. Just because plastic has the potential to be recycled, it doesn’t mean that your local council actually recycles it, either.

Plastic recycling – a guide to the numbers

If you don’t want to read this list (I’ll take no offence!) allow me to summarise it here. The majority of plastic products are not commonly recycled, and when they are, the major product is plastic ‘wood’ and garden furniture. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen any attractive plastic recycled garden furniture, and I definitely have no desire for fake plastic wood products. Considering how much plastic gets recycled each year, that’s a LOT of plastic garden furniture. So rather than helping the environment by recycling your plastic, you’re actually adding more eyesores to public spaces everywhere!

If you do want to know more about what different types of plastics there are, whether they can be recycled and what they become, read on.

1. PET or PETE: polyethylene terephthalate

This is the plastic used to make clear bottles for soft drinks and water, plastic food jars for sauces and condiments.

Recycled into: bottles for cleaning products and non-food items; egg cartons; fibres/textiles (carpet, fleece, filling for winter coats).

2. HDPE: high-density polyethylene

This is the opaque plastic used to make milk bottles, oil/vinegar bottles, ice-cream tubs, bottles for toiletries and cleaning products.

Recycled into: recycling and compost bins; pipes; crates; flower pots; outdoor furniture.

3. PVC: polyvinyl chloride

This is the clear plastic used as food wrap, some squeezy bottles. Also used in flooring, plumbing pipes and hoses, children’s toys.

This is not commonly recycled, but can be used for: pipe, floor coverings.

4. LDPE: low-density polyethylene

This is used to make cling-film, most squeezy bottles, food bags and plastic carrier (shopping) bags.

This is not commonly recycled, but can be used for outdoor furniture; fence posts; tubing.

5. PP: polypropylene

This is the plastic used to make dairy food containers such as yoghurt pots and cheese containers, margarine containers, Tupperware and other plastic food storage boxes, and medicine bottles. Most plastic bottle tops are made out of this.

This is not commonly recycled, but can be used for outdoor furniture and planters.

6. PS: polystyrene

This includes colourless, transparent polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, which is more commonly known as styrofoam. This is used for takeaway food containers, hot beverage containers, food produce boxes and deli packaging.

This is not commonly recycled and predominantly makes two products, insulation and plastic ‘timber’. To recycle it has to be mixed in with new ‘virgin’ polystyrene.

7. Other

This includes polycarbonate, polylactide, bioplastics made from corn starch, acrylonitrile styrene, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Products made from these include high quality kitchen plastics, CDs, toys such as Lego, protective helmets, toothbrushes, the outer covers for electrical equipment such as printers, and medical storage containers.

These are not commonly recycled (and obviously depend on the material), but can be made into plastic ‘timber’ products.

Making Almond Nut Butter (A Recipe)

Almond butter is essentially the same thing as peanut butter (except a lot of peanut butters have extra salt, sugar, oil and goodness-knows-what-else mixed in too), but made from almonds. I love peanut butter, but I prefer almonds to peanuts, and almond butter is definitely more delicious!

However, if you want to buy it from the shops it’s quite a bit more expensive than peanut butter. I guess that’s what comes from not adding all that other rubbish in.

You can buy almond butter from health food shops and actually our local supermarkets stock it too, except the brand they stock has a plastic wrapper over the lid – and I don’t buy plastic. I did find a plastic free version, but it wasn’t great – too many lumps, oily and ridiculously stiff.

So I decided to have a go at making it in my food processor. And…it was a total success! So I won’t be buying it any more, I’ll be making my own. And I might experiment with some other nuts. I think hazelnut butter would be amazing too, and I haven’t seen that in the shops at all.

Recipe: How to Make Almond Butter

I choose to make roasted almond butter, because roasting brings out the flavour.

This recipe makes approx. 1 cup almond butter.

Ingredients:

2 cups raw almonds

Method:

First roast the almonds. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Spread the almonds on a baking tray so they’re not on top of one another and cook for 20-30 minutes. (I cooked mine for 30 minutes and they were very well roasted – possibly a bit too much!)

almond1jpgLeave to cool completely. They will continue to make popping noises even once they feel cool to touch, so wait for this to stop.

Once the almonds are cold, place in the food processor or high powered blender, and turn on.

After a minute, the almonds will have turned into crumbs.

Keep blending, and the crumbs will form a dough.

Continue to blend, and the dough will form a smooth glossy paste, which is almond butter.

Scrape into a jar – I store mine in the cupboard, and a jar lasts 2-3 months. It will keep longer if stored in the fridge.

Plastic Free July is almost upon us!

plastic-free-july-logo-banner-lge

This year’s Plastic Free July challenge is almost upon us, with just a little over two weeks to go. Plastic Free July, in case you don’t know what it is, is a challenge that runs every year which encourages people to give up disposable plastic for the month of July. (If you think that sounds too hard, you can also commit to a week or even one shopping trip instead.)

What do I mean by disposable plastic mean anyway?

This is the stuff you use just once, or a couple of times, and then throw away. Obvious items include plastic shopping bags, plastic bottles, plastic food packaging in general (cellophane wrapping, polystyrene trays, plastic tubs, bottles and yoghurt pots, even tetra-packs) and a lot of cosmetics and toiletries packaging. But there’s loads of less obvious stuff out there too. Like, for example, when you buy a new pair of socks and they are hanging on the rack with a little plastic hook? That little hook is gonna go straight in the bin.

What’s the purpose of Plastic Free July?

Well, there’s actually a few. On an individual level, it makes participants vastly more aware of how much disposable plastic is in our lives. It also encourages people to look at what plastic they use and see if they can find alternatives to any of it, so maybe after July, some new habits are formed.

But also, by bringing your own bags to the shops, or taking your own containers to the fishmonger, or refusing a straw, people can also send messages to retailers and businesses, and also their staff and other customers. This sends the message to the wider community that there is another way, and create awareness at this level too. The more people that demand change, the more businesses will listen.

Of course, it also means vastly less plastic is consumed in the month of July, which means less plastic going to landfill and less plastic ending up in our rivers and oceans where it harms wildlife. And less fossil fuels are wasted making new disposable plastic that is destined for the same journey.

Plus it’s a great way to find out about businesses that are already doing great things to help the environment – either cafes with zero waste policies, or companies that make stainless steel water bottles or reusable cloth vegetable bags – and also charities, community groups and other organisations that are campaigning for change.

So Plastic Free July is about creating awareness, reducing waste and inspiring change.

Why am I so passionate about Plastic Free July?

I took part in Plastic Free July last year for the first time, and it was a life-changing experience. Seriously. I always thought of myself as pretty green and sustainable, but once I started looking at how much plastic I was consuming, I realised there was so much more I could do. So after July I committed to permanently avoiding buying disposable plastic packaging.

But it wasn’t just that. Once I started looking at all that plastic-wrapped food, I realised that it’s all processed, and mostly junk. The more processed the ‘food’, the more plastic packaging. Once I stopped buying that stuff, I instantly felt better and healthier, and it made me start to look at what I was eating to make the connections between food and health. We all know that you need to eat well, but often we choose to ignore it when we’re busy, for the sake of convenience. Taking part in Plastic Free July made me reconnect with the issue. I also learned to cook new things so I could make fresh, wholesome versions of the things I could no longer buy, so I didn’t have to go completely without.

The same goes for skincare. I used to buy products that were readily available in the supermarkets, and never really considered that they contained preservatives, irritants and carcinogens. Yep, carcinogens. (If you wanna see what’s in the products you’re using, check out the Skin Deep database here which contains 64,000 products. It’s an eye-opener.) Once I started looking for cosmetic products in glass I began to find natural products that didn’t contain any of that nasty stuff. Now I know the alternatives I wouldn’t dream of buying those mass-produced synthetic chemical cocktails to put on my skin. (I’ve also started learning how to make my own.)

The Plastic Free July challenge also led me to small, independent businesses and local producers, and changed the whole way I shopped. Which is great because I’d much rather be supporting these types of businesses rather than the big multinational companies with their inferior products and questionable ethics. I just needed that extra push, I suppose.

What else? Well I learned a great deal about waste and pollution, and found out about a number of charities and individuals doing amazing work, including 5 Gyres, who campaign against plastic pollution, and the fantastic Beth Terry, who gave up plastic completely in 2007, and whose blog contains a wealth of information regarding plastic-free living.

Through Plastic Free July I was also able to really connect with my local community, and meet so many people who live just down the road and have the same concerns as me. It’s great to know I’m not the only one that cares – and sometimes it can feel a bit like that!

So there’s a lot more to Plastic Free July than giving up a few plastic carrier bags!

Want to get on board?

Sign up! You’ve still got two weeks to prepare for it, and if you want to know more have a look at the Plastic Free July website which has loads of information, links and suggestions for dilemnas you may have. You can choose which challenge you want to sign up to, and if there’s something that you absolutely cannot avoid that comes in plastic (like medication!) just keep the packaging in a ‘dilemna bag’ for the end of the month.

And if you’re still not sure, have a look at the website anyway… you’ve still got a couple of weeks to change your mind!

My latest shower accessory

Last week my boyfriend and I went to a Water Smart workshop, which was about both the issues Perth is facing with water demand and supply, and how to use water sustainably. On the way home, my boyfriend commented that he wasn’t really motivated to make any changes to our lives, because water didn’t seem as important as other things, like power or transport. I was inclined to agree. I think greywater systems and rainwater tanks are fantastic, but we don’t own our own house, so this is something for the future. It is something I’d definitely do in the future, but it’s probably a long way off, and not relevant to us now. Read more