Category Archives: Zero Waste

The Natural Mama’s Beach Holiday Travel Essentials Guide

There’s no better way to get excited about your upcoming summer holiday than by going shopping for all your beach essentials.  Even the most eco-conscious of us aren’t immune to this pleasure, but some of us – quite rightly – temper that excitement with our concern for the environment and the health of ourselves and our children. So here’s some greener and healthier ways to join in with the summer joy of planning for your beach holiday.

Sun Protection

Sun protection of one kind or another is so important, especially for children.  Gettinghd_101323492_01
just 5 blistering sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer by up to 80%. So make sure you have a variety of ways to protect your skin.  Many drugstore sunscreens are full of parabens, oxybenzone and other chemicals linked to various types of hormone-disrupting cancers. But there’s no need to worry – there are plenty of options open to you. You can wear a beach cover up which covers the arms and chest well – and there are plenty of good second hand ones about, like this one which I’ve featured from the Oxfam online shop (click here to check out their full range of colours and options).

You should also invest in a good ocean-safe, reef-safe SPF sun cream each summer.  Some people make their own suncreams with coconut oil and essential oils, and if that’s your thing, go for it, but be aware there’s always the risk that you end up making a basting oil for your skin rather than a sun protectant.  While many oils and essential oils do have a natural SPF quality to them, there is no way you can guarantee that level of protection is still in the base ingredient product you’ve purchased without expensive testing. Instead, buy a non-nano, paraben-free, oxybenzone-free sun protection product which is as natural as possible. Suncreams like this new one from Weleda which I purchased at my local health food store last week are a great option.

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If Weleda is difficult to find in your area, consider the Thinkbaby and Thinksport sunscreens which I tried out on two separate occasions earlier this summer when visiting friends and I had to borrow some sun protection.  Thinksport do SPF 50 creams, but also a great SPF 30 face and body stick which is easy to apply to your face – kind of like a mini deodorant stick.  It’s a clean range of products which is easy to find in Canada, the US and the UK, and it’s been designed for serious athletes – so it will definitely be able to withstand your beach holiday demands! Plan ahead and make sure you have enough for your trip – you don’t want to end up like I did on my trip to Italy, having to buy horrible overpriced chemical-filled sunscreen at the pharmacy (you don’t want to know how much sun protection costs in Europe).

For kids I also recommend getting UPF 50 sun protection suits for the beach. When paired with a good wide-brimmed hat, it means you don’t have to worry about when they spend a bit too long in the sunshine – as they inevitably will.  I do buy these suits and shirts second hand for my daughter but do keep in mind that the sun protection factor in second hand suits might not be as high as it will be in a new suit.

Swimwear

You can get some great bathing suits and bikinis second hand like these ones at the Oxfam online shop (just give them a good boil wash after buying them). I’m a bit busty, however, so have never had luck finding second hand bikini tops that fit me.  In fact, finding any gorgeous bikini tops that will fit over a D cup is actually quite difficult. I wasIMG_20180723_124900.jpg gifted this beautiful black Boho Chic bikini from Hunkemoeller (I saw their gorgeous lingerie and swimwear boutiques all over Germany last month). It fits me so well – in fact this model ran a bit on the generous size, so I had return my first bikini top (thank you free returns!) and go a cup size smaller than my usual Panache bra cup size which looks amazing on me.  It ties at the top and the back , so you don’t need to worry about whether the band will be too tight or too loose, and the metal U bar in the front, allows the front of the bra to open easily for topless sunbathing (or easy breastfeeding, if you’re still nursing your child). They also had a variety of styles of bikini bottoms, so I was able to find the right cut to suit my derrière. (That’s not me below, btw!)

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After Sun

Don’t overthink this one.  Buy some pure organic aloe gel (like this one from Amazon which comes in a handy 200ml size).  Avoid those livid green and totally transparent Aloe-based concoctions you see at the supermarket and pharmacy – they have a lot of other stuff in them other than healing aloe. You can mix the aloe gel with a few drops of a good quality lavender essential oil (I use Young Living – see why here) to boost the skin soothing quality of the aloe. If you do get a bit too much sun, just rub in some of this into your skin and it will help cool you off and start to nourish your sun-damaged skin. Just keep reapplying as your skin sucks it in (and it will, depending on the severity of the burn).

Beach Bag

Don’t forget a beach bag to schlep around all your stuff. You don’t need to invest in something really134253_7 expensive – if you’re travelling on your own or with your partner, a small canvas shopping tote will work. If you’re travelling with kids the best thing are those big tacky re-usable supermarket bags which are fantastic for this purpose because they’re waterproof and hold tons of stuff like flippers, goggles, snorkels, sand-encrusted swim shoes, gazillions of towels, etc.

But I know that if you’re going back and forth to the beach club, you might want something a bit more chic than a massive orange Sainsbury’s bag proudly branding it’s elephant design emblazoned on the side. I’ve decided to splurge and treat myself to this black & white one from Hunkemoller UK to match my new bikini. It reminded me of some of the gorgeous bags I’ve seen in Anthropologie.  (I remember the days of disposable income. They’re long gone, but I do remember them!)

Sunglasses

For Pete’s sake, don’t forget a pair of sunglasses or you’ll be squinting in agony for the next two weeks. On my way back from Canada in June, I treated myself to a new pair of Oakley matte tortoiseshell Latch sunglasses at the duty free shop. (Yeah, I’ve given myself a few treats lately – what’s up with that?) I had been planning to get the folding Ray Ban Wayfarers, but discovered that they come in a leather case, which kind of didn’t flow with the whole vegan vibe.

Water Bottle

It’s pretty easy most places to access clean drinking water, so unless you’re travelling somewhere at particular risk for waterborne pathogens, just take your water bottle with you and for each member of your family so you can stay hydrated throughout the day.  Even if you go to a resort, its great having your own reusable cup bottle with you, so you can have the bar staff refill it with water for you from their filtered water systems.  I love my Yeti bottle because I can attach it to my bag with a carabiner – and yes, I bought it second hand.

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It’s also a great idea to take a reusable coffee cup (like a Keep Cup) or an insulated wine tumbler (yes, there is such a thing) so you don’t have to use plastic cups for your wine or cocktails, and they’ll stay cooler for longer in the sun. (Amazon have a wide range of insulated wine tumblers at various price points, and Yeti do a cool one too).

Sun Hat

Sun hats are such a personal thing, I’m not even going to show you an example here.  I have a great soft brushed cotton baseball cap I love from ethical clothing company Absolutely Bear which I wear for day trips and hiking all the time, but I probably won’t wear it on the beach on my trip to Spain, as I might want something which channels a bit more of a Sophia Loren vibe.  But whatever suits your style.

One thing I will say is, just take a sun hat.  Something foldable might be wise, so you can pack it in your luggage.  I have a gorgeous Panama style hat which I love, but it isn’t the easiest to travel with because I have to wear it for the whole flight, or make sure it doesn’t get crunched up in the overhead luggage compartment.

Sun hats are such a great and easy way to keep the sun off your face without worrying about whether your SPF cream has worn off and panda eyes are developing.  And as the (not so) proud wearer of many, many panda eyes in the past, may I say I have expert knowledge that it is worth avoiding.   (No make up will really cover those puppies up.) Just wear the hat.

Reading Material

It’s really important to have enough reading material on your trip.  On shorter trips I’ll usually just take a library book, but I also have started to enjoy borrowing my husband’s Kindle and I absolutely love Amazon Audible, so I can listen to audio books on my phone while on the plane and so I can keep an eye on my daughter on the beach. (Getting lost in a book isn’t really possible when you’re looking after children near the sea, lakes or the pool.) Here’s the link I used to get a free 90 day trial of Audible so you can see if it’s the kind of thing you would enjoy too – at the very least it will last you your holiday! They’re often read by the author or by someone with a delicious reading voice, like Mariella Frostrup. I recently listened to Swing Time by Zadie Smith and can highly recommend it.

And have a great holiday!  For more tips, check out my posts on eco travel, how to pack light and travelling with kids. Have I forgotten anything?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Resources/References:

Sun Protection – https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/just-five-sunburns-increase-your-cancer-risk/, https://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html

Photo Credit: Hunkemoeller bikini shot – from https://www.hunkemoller.co.uk/uk_en/47-boho-chic-bikini-bottoms-black-123295.html, Hunkemoeller beach bag shot – from https://www.hunkemoller.co.uk/uk_en/47-doutzen-beach-bag-black-134253.html

 

 

 

Small Space Composting

I try really hard to be as green as possible, but when it comes to composting, I’ve not been able to get beyond buying those green biodegradable compost bags at the supermarket and tossing them into the big brown compost bin provided by the local council a few times a week. Basically I’m letting someone else do my composting for me, and then when I want compost for my plants at home, I go buy the expensive bagged up stuff from the garden centre. (So ridiculous!) So I asked fellow green blogger Kayla Kamp if she’d write something for me on composting, which is one of her areas of expertise. If you’re anything like me and are a beginner at composting and/or you live in a small urban space, the idea of composting can be a challenge. (Rotting food, worms, ewwww.) So my challenge to Kayla was to write something for people like me – beginners who don’t have a lot of outdoor space (or even any outdoor space at all).

I know I’m looking forward to learning more about composting and if you want to learn more too, Kayla blogs over at Ever Change Productions with the idea that we should create more and consume less. For the past 6 years, she’s been striving to inspire others to make use of their waste. Learn more about her story here.

Why You Should Compost – Even Without a Garden

With more people than ever moving into smaller spaces, it’s becoming increasingly important to share the good news that small space composting is possible!

A few years ago I got the composting bug. It seemed like a great way to reduce food waste and to take the next step in my young environmentalist journey. However, there was one small problem – I lived in an apartment.

I did have a little patch of grass that I used for a minuscule container garden, but I knew with all the composting myths that starting a compost bin would be out of the question. Plus, I didn’t have the skills to build a bin or the money for a composting tumbler. But once I get an idea in my head, it holds on tight, so I set out to find a way to a small space composting solution. For cheap.

Optimal Bin Size & Why It’s Important

Before we get too much further into this, let’s go over some composting basics.

The optimal bin size for a home compost pile is 3 square feet (1 square metre). Anything smaller might not heat up high enough to breakdown all the materials or it might lose heat and slow down the process. Air naturally penetrates a pile 18 to 24 inches (45 to 70 cm), which makes a 3 square foot (1 square metre) bin a manageable size.

A larger pile tends to hold too much water, which may create an anaerobic environment. It’s also much harder to turn, so it might be too much for some to manage without special equipment.

Today, there are some pretty creative ways to compost even if you don’t have access to that outdoor space.

What to Compost

Deciding what to compost depends on what composting set-up you use. For example, a common backyard bin needs a certain amount of carbon to nitrogen ratio to decompose efficiently. These are often referred to as greens and browns, but if you use a Bokashi fermenting process, you’ll only need nitrogen-rich ingredients. Worms need both carbon for bedding and nitrogen for food. But there are certain foods they can’t eat and certain bedding materials cause the bin to heat up as they break down.

Carbon, often referred to as browns, are the dry materials and nitrogen are the green, fresh materials. In a common outdoor compost bin, greens provide protein and moisture for organisms. The browns allow airflow throughout the pile and provides energy for organisms. To start off your pile it’s safe to add the same amount of brown material as you do green. The ideal ratio is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Piles with too much nitrogen tend to smell sour, because the excess nitrogen converts into an ammonia gas. Carbon-rich piles break down slowly because there’s not enough nitrogen for the microbe population to thrive. See this list of comprehensive composting materials for inspiration.

Small Space Composting Options When You Have No Garden

If you don’t have a backyard, you might think small space composting isn’t an option. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Depending on whether you have a balcony, there are a few composting options that don’t require a yard or garden.

Worm Bins

Some people might prefer a wormless composting system, but plllleeeease give the worms a chance. They’re such hard workers and really easy to manage. If you manage the bin correctly, they won’t even bother you. They’re as happy as can be, just to hang out and eat without saying a word.

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is perfect for composting indoors. All you need is small plastic tote. I’ve even made a vermicomposting system using three cat litter buckets. You can read more about my vermicomposting system here.

If you decide to go this route, here is an affiliate link to Uncle Jim’s worm farm. They have great customer service and products. I will get a small percentage from each sale at no additional cost to you.

Pros

-Fits in small spaces
-Doesn’t need to heat up
-Doesn’t require turning
-Worms do all the work
-You get to play with worms! (This could also be a con, depending on your point of
view)

Cons

– Materials you can compost are limited
– They can’t eat some foods and some bedding materials will heat up the bin

Electrical Composter

Now this might blow your mind; it certainly did mine, but there is something called an electric composter. And if you have a serious aversion to any to the creepy crawliness of composting, then this might the answer for you. Seriously, this thing is so low maintenance. With a few hours and pushing a couple of buttons, you can have finished compost.

Pros

– You have finished compost in hours
– Perfect for people who don’t have much to compost
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Can’t compost many scraps at a time
– Requires electricity
– Fairly expensive composting system
– Doesn’t have as many nutrients as traditional compost

Bokashi Buckets

Bokashi Buckets don’t follow other composting rules. Most of these other methods use aerobic decomposition. The bokashi system uses anaerobic, meaning it doesn’t use air to complete its decomposition cycles. The anaerobic component of bokashi buckets, means it doesn’t compost all the way. Instead, it ferments. At the end of the cycle, you have to bury the fermented ingredients, which might not be ideal for apartment dwellers. You can learn more about the bokashi bucket here.

Pros

– Fits in a small space
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Doesn’t produce finished compost
– Requires burial to finish the composting process

Composting Options When You Have a Small Garden

If you have a rental home, duplex or even some apartments, you might be lucky enough to have a small yard. Although, the former options are totally open to you, you might have a couple more composting options.

Like I mentioned before, the optimal compost bin is only 3 feet (1 metre) wide. Before you set up any kind of composting bin, be sure to ask your landlord. There are tons of benefits for compost in the short term, but the long term benefits far outweigh any benefits of synthetic fertilizer.

Compost Bin

The optimal compost bin is 3 feet by 3 feet (1 square metre). You can build your own compost bin with unlimited materials, such as scrap wood, fence panels, even garden fence wire.

If you have the space, a compost bin is the best option because it’s the optimum size.

Other systems have other ways of dealing the lack of proper space, but a compost
bin is the perfect set-up.

Pros

– Can be made with any kind of structure
– Efficient compost

Cons

– Requires more space than some other systems
– Requires proper turning and water maintenance

Compost Tumbler

If a compost bin is out of the question because of space or other reasons, a compost tumbler is a good substitute. The tumbler requires similar conditions to a standard
compost bin.

Pros

– Easier to turn
– Doesn’t require a lot of space
– Doesn’t require permanent alterations in your yard

Cons

– More expensive than a compost bin

Green Cone

A green cone uses solar power to speed up the composting process and is able to compost 2 pounds of food per day. Not only does it compost more food in a shorter time frame, but also it can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta.

The Green Cone Composter has a basket installed below the ground, which forms the base for an above ground double-walled solar chamber with an access lid. The Green Cone Composter stands 26 inches above ground level and extends 18 inches below ground level. Access is through an 8-inch diameter hole in the top of the solar chamber, which is sealed by a hinged lid with a security catch.

Learn more about the Green Cone Composter here.

Pros

– Composts food quickly
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Composts up to 2 pounds of food per day
– Can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy
products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta

Cons

– Requires a yard
– Requires a hole in the yard

Small space composting is possible! If you’ve been looking for a sign to start composting, this is it! If you’re not quite sure, which of these composting options are best for you, take this free composting quiz. I’ll be checking back on this post, so feel free to leave any questions you have below.

How to Make Golden Milk

I’ll admit that golden milk isn’t my drink of choice when it comes to flavour as I’m not the biggest fan of turmeric (outside of a curry). But this antioxidant powerhouse of a drink provides a range of fantastic health benefits for its anti-inflammatory properties. I suggest that if you’re using powdered turmeric, that you make sure you are using a fresh, organic brand which will have higher levels of the active phytonutrient curcumin.

It might seem a bit gross adding a bit of pepper like I have here, but the addition of the piperine (the active phytochemical in the black pepper) by freshly grinding some pepper into your drink, will boost the bioavailability of the curcumin by up to 2000%.

I’ve also added cinnamon and a fine dusting of nutmeg for added flavour (I think these make the golden milk more tasty) and provide added anti-inflammatory benefits, but if you don’t like cinnamon or nutmeg, you can leave these out.

Here’s how I make mine:

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Place your turmeric juice or powdered turmeric into a saucepan with the plant milk and gently simmer for around 10 minutes.
  2. Before serving, sprinkle on some freshly ground pepper and stir in the sweetener. Then strain it into a glass or mug and drink whilst warm. Grate nutmeg on top.

If you want to find out about the effectiveness of curcumin, I encourage you to read the resources referenced below. Enjoy!

Resources

  1. Prasad, S., Tyagi, A. and Aggarwal, B. (2014). Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice. Cancer Research and Treatment, 46(1), pp.2-18. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3918523/ [Accessed 21 May 2018].
  2. Whfoods.com. (2018). Turmeric. [online] Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78 [Accessed 21 May 2018].

How to Make Your Own Cashew Milk

I like making my own cashew milk because its rich and creamy and it tends not to split in coffee or tea. I won’t lie and say I never buy store bought plant milks (because I do), but I try not to do so all the time because commercial manufacturers do add rather a lot of extra unnecessary additives. (However, as with cow’s milk, they do fortify these milks as well, so remember to adequately supplement your diet if you decide to eschew the commercial plant milks entirely.)  Of all the homemade plant milks I’ve made, cashew milk is my most successful one and everyone who has tasted it has loved it. It passes my “milk and cookies test” meaning it is delicious served neat in a glass with a cookie for dunking.

Nutrition-wise, cashews are one of the lowest fat nuts with around 82% of their fat being unsaturated, and of that, 66% is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, like the kind you find in olive oil. It has been found that when added to a low-fat diet, monounsaturated fats can help reduce high triglyceride levels in diabetes patients.  (Triglycerides are the form in which fats are carried in our blood and are what block our insulin receptors from activating and prevent glucose from entering our cells, thus keeping blood glucose levels high and contributing to the diabetes process.)

Cashews are also a great source of copper and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Its also great news that regular nut eaters tend to be slimmer than non nut-eaters and are also at a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, gallstones and Type 2 Diabetes. Just stick to your portion sizes of roughly 1/3 c of nuts per day.

I make my cashew milk quite extra thick and creamy, but if you want a thinner drink, just add more fresh filtered water in 50ml increments until you get the consistency you like. I also recommend buying cashew pieces because its often cheaper than buying whole cashew pieces. If you’re buying in bulk, make sure you store your cashews in the fridge (for up to 6 months) or the freezer (for up to a year).

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cashew nuts*
  • 6 cups fresh filtered water
  • medjool date*
  • Pinch of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (optional)

Equipment

Method

1. Soak your cashew nuts overnight (or for at least 4 hours) in 2 cups of fresh filtered water with the medjool date and a pinch of salt. You’ll be amazed at how plump and moist the nuts will become after even just a few hours of soaking.

2. After soaking, drain the pre-soaked nuts (and de-pitted medjool date) and add them all to a high speed blender with 4 cups of fresh filtered water. You can now add a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. This is optional, but I highly recommend it because of how delicious it makes the end product! Blend this mixture on a high speed for 1-2 minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is.

3. Strain the mixture through your nut milk bag* and store in a jar or milk bottle in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 days.

Tip: You can save any remaining strained nut pulp by freezing it and adding it to cookies or other baked goods at a later date, however if you have a high speed blender, you’re unlikely to have much or any pulp leftover.

cashewsSources: World’s Healthiest FoodsJournal of Biological ChemistryLivestrong, “How Not to Die” by Dr Michael Greger MD



*I’ve popped in a few affiliate links into this post, directly with Nutri Ninja (worldwide) and Amazon (UK), so if you’d like to support what I do here at Our Little Organic Life, then please do shop via these links – you don’t pay any more and I get a small commission. Thanks!

How to Pack a Travel Capsule Wardrobe

As an experienced traveller, you quickly learn that there’s little to be gained by dragging around too much luggage. Packing light is a skill that is learned with time and practice, but I’d like to share some of my tips to help you slim down your luggage and make your trip more comfortable. Once you know how to do this, you will have a small but versatile wardrobe and you won’t feel deprived of options.

What you pack specifically depends on where you’re going, what you will do when you get there and how long you’ll be away. But to start with, get out all the things you think you will need and then ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really need to bring this?
  2. How often will I use this?
  3. Can I carry all my luggage on my own if need be?

The Guidelines I Recommend

Colours

Its tempting to just pack all your favourite stuff, but you’ll be much happier if your wardrobe coordinates, so try to pick a wardrobe from one colour family. (For me that tends to be neutrals – black, white, grey and blue – but that could just as easily be coral and turquoise if you’re that kind of a gal.)

Fabric

Choose fabrics which will deal well with being compacted into a tight suitcase or packing cubes and which will easily release wrinkles. As with colour, make sure the textiles all will work well together.

Cut & Style

Try to make sure that the cut of clothing is simple, that it suits your personal style and above all is comfortable and suitable for all the activities you’ll be doing at your destination.

How Many Pieces Should I Bring?

As a general rule, I pack 12-15 main items of clothing for any trip 5 or more days in length. This will be reduced to around 5-6 pieces if I’m just away for a long weekend. Its summer now, so here’s what I’ll be taking with me to Canada next month. I choose to buy most of my clothes second hand from eBay, Frenchy’s (a chain of second hand shops in Atlantic Canada), and here in the UK from charity shops, Shpock and Preloved*.

Shoes

I always bring one pair of very comfortable walking shoes wherever I travel. This summer it will be my Vivo Barefoot vegan trainers* which roll up super tight for tight packing and have ultra thin puncture resistant soles.

vivobarefoot primus vegan trainers

anthracite birkenstock mayari vegan

As its summer, I’ll also bring a pair of comfortable but stylish sandals which will look good but also stand
up to hours of walking. I have tried bringing heels with me on holiday but its always an utter waste of space unless I’m on a business trip. Thank goodness Birkenstock now make vegan sandals which aren’t just horrible moulded plastic (like they used to be) and look good with shorts and dresses alike. You’d never think these beautiful Mayor Birko-Flor in Anthracite were vegan, and they’re what I’ll be wearing this summer.

1-2 pairs shorts

I bought these Gap shorts second hand on Shpock from a local lady. They were exactly the colours and cut I was after. I wear shorts a lot during the summer, so I’ll probably bring 2 pairs with me on this occasion.

 

1 pair jeans

Cropped jeans are the perfect length for warmer weather trips and just what I need when the weather gets a bit chillier in the evenings. If you’re looking to buy a pair of really comfy jeans in a jegging style (that doesn’t look like a jegging), Hue jeans are what you’re after. My mom bought me this pair last summer when I was visiting her in Canada and I didn’t stop wearing them until the end of September – they are so flattering! – and you can buy them in the UK now*.

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1 pair leggings

For me, a pair of good quality soft cotton black leggings that are comfortable and high waisted with a comfortable waist band are an essential for travel at any time of year. I usually wear them on the plane for long flights because they’re comfy and feel a bit like you’re wearing pyjamas. And of course, they can double as a pair of pyjamas when worn with a t-shirt. In the summer I might wear cropped leggings rather than full length ones. Sadly these seem to be difficult to buy second hand. I choose black because they’ll go with a neutral wardrobe, they’re more forgiving to the figure and also more forgiving to getting a bit dirty while travelling.

3 -5 t-shirts

Three is a good number to bring, but bring 5 if you know you’ll have limited access to a washing machine during your travels. I’ll usually make sure at least one is 3/4 length sleeve for a more versatile look. These organic ones are the Maple design from Absolutely Bear.

black t shirt and white t shirt

1 casual shirt

I usually opt for some sort of crisp white, chambray blue cotton or linen shirt that I always wear with the sleeves rolled up. I can wear it with a pair of jeans for a smart casual look in cities or when visiting museums, or I can wear it open like a jacket over a t-shirt with a pair of shorts for a preppy summer look.

1 fleece

I’ve had my black North Face zip up fleece for probably 15 years and I love it so much and its still in ace shape. Its great for hiking when you don’t know what’s going to happen with the temperature and you want to layer. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily replace it with another microfibre whenever it does reach the end of its life (because, you know, fish) but to be honest it looks like its not going anywhere soon.

1 jumper (sweater)

absolutely bear grey jumper lyndhurst

If you’re going somewhere a little too smart for a fleece its good to bring a jumper (sweater for my fellow North Americans) instead. I have a favourite second hand grey one which has another year or so of life in it, but I love the jumpers from Absolutely Bear since my husband bought his back in January. (I’ve been wearing their organic Maple t-shirt for years now.) They’re beautiful quality, designed here in London, ethically made and give 10% of their profits to charity.

1 dress or skirt

For me, there will inevitably be some occasion to look moderately smart when travelling as my husband likes going out to a nice meal or two. As such I’m not so minimalist that I would veto a touch of elegance in my life. I’ll either bring a simple black jersey maxi dress or my knee length Gap denim skirt which I bought second hand, but I’ve not decided yet.

Swimsuit & swim shoes

Obviously this applies only if I’m going to a location where I’ll be swimming…which is usually most places I travel. I just bring one suit. I’ll also bring a pair of swim shoes because often the best and most beautiful places to swim have ouchy rocks, pebbles or coral and I have weenie soft feet. They’re also an essential for kayaking, my favourite summer hobby, and I’ve never regretted packing them.

Hat & Accessories

I’m not much of a hat person so I’ll probably just bring my old Roots baseball cap because ultimately my only need for a hat is just so I don’t get a sunburn. The one accessory I cannot do without is a pair of sunglasses. I believe in wearing good quality sunglasses for the sake of your eye health and have always worn a pair of Ray Ban Aviators, but will be making the switch to a pair of more travel savvy folding Wayfarers. I also should mention that I don’t travel with jewellery. I always wear my wedding ring (although not always my engagement ring depending on where we are travelling – if its somewhere with a higher crime rate or in poorer communities where it may appear ostentatious) and a plain silver bangle that I always wear, but that’s it. Travelling with jewellery just provides one more thing to worry about losing or have stolen.

Luggage

I recommend having a bag which holds somewhere between 25 and 45 litres. Personally I pop my clothes along with my LL Bean toiletries bag and my laptop into my 25 litre Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack (see video below) and I’m fine, however I may upgrade to their 45 litre carry on (which also conveniently has backpack straps) for longer trips and to allow room for my camera gear.

There are a few affiliate links in this post marked with an asterisk*, but mostly just links I’ve popped in for products I like and have no association with. The affiliate links are companies whose products I know and have years of experience using as a plain old regular customer. I’d never try to flog you something I don’t have experience of using myself. When you buy through these links you are supporting my blog and you’re not paying any more than you normally would on those sites. Thanks!

zero waste tips for renovating your home

Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

We recently had a major piece of work done on our home – the addition of a new floor upstairs – and I was absolutely shocked at how eco-unfriendly and wasteful the whole process was. We did our best to ensure that the existing building materials which were still in good condition, such as the slate roof tiles, were reused, recycled or repurposed. It wasn’t a great experience, and when it was all over we came to the clear conclusion that we will be personally be managing any future property improvements ourselves.

But that got me thinking, can you create a luxurious, comfortable home while still saving both environmental and financial resources? Surely there must be companies out there willing to make an effort to reduce the waste in building or renovating a home? And finally, at the end of your project, there must be some creative ways to repurpose unwanted kitchen and bathroom goods rather than sending them to landfill sites?

Here are some ways you can update your home while still keeping your eco cred:

1. Buy a Second Hand Kitchen or Bathroom

We inherited our cheapo white standard IKEA kitchen when we bought our home several years ago. We’ve updated the room by having a pantry built (to match the white finish of the cabinet units), we had the wooden countertops refinished, installed some attractive handmade Spanish tiles and then painted the room a pleasant shade of pale blue. Its a very simple but functional kitchen. In my heart of hearts, I still don’t like the shiny white cabinets though.

I recently saw a piece on the news about a couple of companies which make birch plywood doors designed to fit standard IKEA kitchens like mine. I think they look really cool and appeal to my Canadian/Scandi aesthetic. It could mean just replacing cupboard doors and handles for a kitchen like mine, rather than ripping out all the cupboard units unnecessarily.

But some kitchens are really and truly badly laid out and I know how frustrating that is. You really do need a whole new kitchen when this is the case. If you’re building a home from scratch or doing major renovations to a property, you’ll also be shopping for a whole new kitchen. But the good news is that you don’t need to actually buy a new kitchen – it just needs to be ‘new to you’. You can now buy beautiful kitchens and bathrooms second hand.

There are a few ways of doing this. You can go onto a second hand website like Craigslist (US, Canada & UK), Gumtree (UK), or Kijiji (Canada) or even eBay. You’ll be really surprised with the beautiful high spec kitchens and bathrooms, barely a few years old which you can find for sale second hand.

You can even get a free kitchen (or give your old kitchen or bathroom away rather than having it sent to a landfill site) on Freecycle.

And for those who will not compromise on having their perfect Shaker style kitchen or white Carrara marble counter tops, there are also companies like the Used Kitchen Exchange (UK) which sell both used and ex-display kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms for a fraction of the price of buying them new. You’ll also get the reassurance of 14 day purchase protection.

This family-run business has a number of environmental, social and business awards behind them and all the kitchens they sell have been pre-surveyed for quality. There is a visualisation service so you can see how the kitchen will work in your space and there’s also the possibility of selling them your old high spec kitchen which they will professionally remove (saving the main hassle when you’re selling it yourself).

Photo of Shaker style kitchen

2. Refinish, Repair & Restore, Don’t Replace!

Wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces, banisters, mantles and furniture can all be refinished. Our downstairs neighbour recently had her old gap-py and yellowing pine floor boards sanded down and the gaps between the floor boards filled in, and it looks amazing now – a luxurious Scandi-look pale smoked finish.

All the beautiful natural chalk paints on offer these days can paint over a multitude of sins in your home. I hear great things about UK-based Frenchic and of course you can get Annie Sloan just about anywhere these days (though not as confident in her eco cred as much as Frenchic). They do paints for furniture, walls, trim as well as waxes and something you paint on for a crackle effect if you like that kind of look.

A friend in Canada (well, my BFF really) updated the upholstery on a dozen or so of the old vinyl covered chairs from her in-laws’ long-gone Greek diner from the 50’s and ended up with the most beautiful, sturdy teenage-boy-proof chairs that were both a labour of love and have some family history to them.

Exquisite walnut floor boards or oak stairs could be hiding underneath that horrible carpet from the 80’s and lovingly restoring them may take a little time and effort but will respect the heritage of your home and could save you a lot of money.

Damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired. I recently read an article in Good Housekeeping singing the praises of a company called Magicman. Their technicians can repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more, on site, nationwide throughout the UK. I haven’t tried them yet, but have a burnt elm Ercol table which could use a little love.

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3. Buy Reclaimed

When shopping for the wooden floors for our new loft bedroom, I was delighted to see that its pretty easy to get a hold of beautiful reclaimed flooring these days. You can always go to a salvage yard to get rough flooring and refinish it yourself, but if you aren’t that brave (like me) you can get it through one of a number of reclaimed wood flooring specialists – just Google ‘reclaimed wood flooring’ and you’ll be surprised by the variety on offer with nationwide delivery.

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4. Recycle, Reuse & Repurpose

And finally, when you have your lovely new home updated, what do you do with what’s left over that you haven’t been able to sell or give away?

If you have an old unwanted carpet, check out Carpet Recycling UK for ideas on how to dispose of it. It can be:

  • Given away on Freecycle.
  • Donated to a furniture reuse network
  • Used in your allotment or community garden (to keep weeds at bay on paths and in plots). Wool carpets have a high nitrogen content which helps to increase growth and growth rates too!
  • Donated to a local animal rescue shelter for kennel mats (especially to keep animals warm in winter).
  • Laid down on your loft/attic floor for some added insulation – it will help retain heat and lower heating bills!
  • Used as a pond liner in your garden.

For a full list of specialist carpet recyclers go to Find A Recycler Near Me.

And all the other leftover bits? What do I do with those? Well, I asked my friends in the Zero Waste community what they’ve done…

  • Sinks and some parts of old kitchen cupboards can be used to make mud kitchens in the garden – lots of kindergartens and preschools want to build mud kitchens and may be happy for the donation.
  • Tiles can be broken up and used as drainage for potted plants.
  • Old bath tubs can be used for raised bed gardens in allotments – great for ‘fussy’ vegetables like asparagus. They can also be used as garden ponds.
  • Old glass shower doors can be used for cold frames in the garden or to cover alpine troughs in winter.
  • Wooden kitchen worktops can be turned into bread boards.
  • Kitchen worktops can be made from old recycled wooden doors.
  • Kitchen cupboards can be downcycled for use in garages, greenhouses and/or potting sheds.
  • Old paint can be given to a community repaint scheme or there may be a donation point at your local recycling centre for paint to be re-used rather than recycled.
  • Anything else you don’t know what to do with? Check the Recycle Now website for ideas.

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This article was in part sponsored by Used Kitchen Exchange

Zero Waste Challenge – Roundup

So here we are at the end of the Zero Waste Challenge and nearly a month has gone by since it ‘officially’ finished, allowing me time to reflect upon the experience.

Week One

The first week was a learning curve, realising just how much non-recyclable plastic waste my local supermarkets (Sainsburys and Waitrose, I’m looking at you) use.  I emptied out a glass jar from my pantry and assigned it to collect all the non-recyclable and non-compostable garbage we would use in a month.  With one exception to this rule being the dirty nappies from my toddler.  No way I’m saving those up for a month!  (Although we use cloth nappies, we also use biodegradable nappies for night, but because they contain human waste after use, they have to go into the garbage rather than the compost bin…according to my friend’s bin man).  At least they will have decomposed in 4-5 years rather than 500 years like regular disposable nappies.

Week Two

Week two was more about changing my practices as a consumer and being more confident in demanding that my purchases create less waste.  I just started finding the whole experience less…well…less embarrassing to be honest.  So I now make sure that the fishmonger and butcher just wrap my purchases in paper (which they do anyway) but I ask them not to put them in a plastic bag afterwards and instead I place them in a washable bag.  I found that the most cost effective way of shopping with less packaging was by making a menu plan, creating a list and then going to the local village shops.  We are fortunate to have a local organic green grocers which also sells a lot of Middle Eastern foods, a fishmongers, a butchers and if you like wine, there is a shop which sells wines on tap from barrels and you can bring your own bottles to fill up.  I like using the local shops too because you don’t need to buy big packs of food and can order just as much as you need for your menu plan.  This helps reduce food waste.

Week Three

By week three I noticed that we were creating a lot more recycling, compost waste and bits of paper to go into the fire basket. I guess this was a by-product of me making sure that any packaged goods I did buy were in recyclable packaging. I think we’ll have to deal with that at some point, as even creating lots of recyclable waste still isn’t ideal. I was also finding it really frustrating to realise that there actually weren’t any bulk food stores around to get dry goods. I am from Canada and most of the supermarkets in my home country have a bulk foods section and there is even a great chain of bulk food stores that have been around since I was a kid, called the Bulk Barn. I don’t think I ever really appreciated it that much…until now when I realised that the only bulk food shops around  here are the big Whole Foods in Kensington (where I used to do my bulk food shopping when I worked around there), Unpackaged at Planet Organic in Muswell Hill and The Dry Goods Store in Maida Vale.

You also have to remember that even the most self righteous of zero waste shoppers can never be truly zero waste. Even those bulk foods come packaged somehow. So if, like me, there isn’t a local bulk food store in your area, there is a good argument for getting a bunch of likeminded local friends together and doing some bulk ordering of some pantry staples you use a lot of in your kitchen. You’ll just need someone who is a bit organised to pull it all together and you’ll need a good set of scales for dividing the order up fairly!

Week Four

I got really DIY-ey this week. Throughout the month I had been making the zero waste baby wipes for my toddler, but at this point I needed to replace some of my own personal care items and made a batch of my homemade deodorant (recipe coming soon!), as well as making my foaming hand soap  with a new essential oil blend of lemongrass and ginger for summer.  I really love doing DIY personal care items, but for me, they do have to work.   Especially the deodorant!  Unfortunately I haven’t found a homemade shampoo recipe that works well so at the moment I’m still using a commercial brand of shampoo which I like.  (If you know of an amazing DIY shampoo which actually works…tell me about it!)

At this point I also ran out of bamboo toothbrushes, so I made a new order on Amazon.  I don’t know why more people don’t buy these.  The bristles are made from nylon and they are exactly the same as the bristles on a normal toothbrush.  They just have handles made from bamboo rather than the mixed plastic handles of normal toothbrushes which end up in landfill because most recyclers won’t go to the trouble of separating the plastics.  I do appreciate the fact that ordering a toothbrush to come in a large cardboard Amazon box is not the most ‘zero waste’, however right now nowhere local carries the environmentally friendly toothbrushes and I do buy in bulk so at least I won’t have to buy them again until later in the year. Also, for my toddler I get these little Jack N’ Jill compostable toothbrushes for babies with cute little animals on them.

Conclusion

So, I have to say that my husband wasn’t the most co-operative partner in this Zero Waste Challenge and I did see a bit of non-recyclable packaging make it into the garbage can, so in addition to the night time nappy waste, over the month in total we produced a loosely filled 40 litre bag of garbage.  So as a household we were not entirely zero waste this month. However, excluding my husband and baby’s contributions to landfill…I do feel proud that my personal contribution to landfill from the whole of the month of June fit into the space of a Kilner jar.

OLOL Zero Waste Jar

Now, going forward will I chop my garbage up into small pieces and store it in a glass jar every month?  No, probably not.  Will I keep up the additional zero waste practices I’ve adopted over the course of the month?  Absolutely.  And I will continue to add to them as I can.  I’ve equipped our household with a few additional zero waste necessities, like pyrex glass and stainless steel water bottles to ensure we can take enough water on our outings and day trips and also some extra mason jars for food storage, snacks, layered salads and the like.  I already have my favourite glass standard barista size Keep Cup which my husband bought me last year and which I carry with me everywhere so I can get coffee on the go.

I’ve also started doing a bit more “from scratch” in the kitchen like cooking up dry pulses in slow cooker (avoiding tinned and boxed black beans and chick peas) and making my own cashew milk and storing it in glass bottles, thus saving on the high cost of nut milks and also the packaging they come in.

I could feel like a failure and just give up entirely thinking “oh that zero waste thing didn’t work out for me”, but I think that actually we’ve made some great steps this month towards living a reduced waste lifestyle in the long-term and that will have significantly more environmental impact than one zero waste month experiment would have.  And I’m happy with that.  And even my husband is now getting into the swing of things…even though he still thinks some of it is pretty weird.