Tag Archives: zero waste

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 they’ll also buy your old kitchen and will professionally remove it (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 pats 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

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Travelling with Kids

I don’t write as much about travel as I would like to. I usually plan to do amazing YouTube travel videos which never get edited or posted and I take lots of photos which I think would be great here on the site…but rarely does a travel post I’ve planned or started ever materialise. Which is a shame, because my husband and I travel A LOT and we’ve learned tons about travelling with kids. So that’s what I am going to share with you today. (If you’d like some general zero waste travel tips, check out this post I wrote a couple years ago.)

1. Planning & booking your trip

My husband and I love planning our trips. We think about where we want to go and then read lots about it (not just Lonely Planet guides, but relevant novels, poetry, historical literature, etc. about the area) and really draw the process out with a sort of childish delight. If you have no children you can spend hours doing this during weekly date nights, but if you have a child, like we do now, all I can say is good luck. (I’ve been trying to read a Costa Rica guide for like a year now.) Once you’ve decided where you want to go and when, try to find a child-free hour when you can book your trip with a clear head, free from distractions. Your flight schedule, free time from work and school, and accommodation availability all have to align and stupid mistakes are so easy to make at this stage. I’m not being patronising here, but this is one area where multi-tasking is fairly risky.

If you’ve booked a package holiday, life should be simple – you’ll get collected as per whatever arrangement your package holiday company has made and you get taken straight to your hotel. We do very little package holiday travel (although we have done so occasionally) and have found its not always the best when travelling with small kids.

Its easy to get lured into the belief that you’ll have loads of kids clubs to watch your kids all the time and you don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning. The reality is that unless your kids are older, they’re often too small for kids clubs and you end up having a screaming hot baby/toddler with you on the beach/poolside while everyone glares at you. When dinnertime comes you can either eat ridiculously early at 5 or 6 o’clock or wait until later and take your cranky/hyper kids with you to dinner at 7.30 or 8 and watch in horror as spaghetti is flung onto the lady at the next table (it happened). Or you can book a babysitter every night and have a peaceful dinner with your partner, but that gets pretty expensive pretty quickly. You’ll probably also be sharing a room with your kid(s) and bedtime can be just…um, awesome when you’re away from your usual environment and routines. Evenings with your partner will be spent huddled on the balcony, whispering and playing Uno whilst sneaking up all-inclusive cocktails from downstairs, and being extra quiet while your kid(s) try to get to sleep. But don’t worry, they’ll start getting used to the new routine just by the time you’re packing to leave and go home. So yeah, I’m not really recommending the package holiday that much. Maybe once they’re teenagers?

I do have one caveat to this. If you can afford to book a villa at a resort, you can get many of the advantages of having an apartment with a kitchenette and separate bedrooms, with the conveniences of being on a resort (including access to resort babysitters and kids clubs for older kids, etc). I’ve not done this, but my friend Katie swears by it and for her family of 4, its the preferred way to travel. Its definitely not an inexpensive way to go, but I wanted to share as many options as possible.

Another friend of mine travelled in a minivan from Glasgow to the Peloponnese with her husband and 3 children (all under age 6) and they stayed at a range of types of accommodation ranging from bizarre British guest houses to luxury spa resorts, but they enjoyed the private apartments and houses they rented the most. It gave them more freedom to enjoy their destination and a more relaxed experience while travelling with their young children.

Personally, I prefer independent travel because I happen to like going to local shops and markets and experimenting with the local foods, and in some small way, ‘living like a local’…or at least pretending to.

If you are doing independent travel (which is what we highly recommend when travelling with babies and smaller children), you can rent your own house or apartment with Airbnb. This can range from fairly basic and simple accommodation to extreme luxury. It provides all the reassurance of booking a hotel, but you get your own house or apartment wherever you want to be. This is great because you can keep your home schedule (nap times, meal times, etc…) with your children and you can make meals and packed lunches that you know they will eat and best of all you can pack your little ones off into their own beds before having a leisurely evening with your partner with the full run of the house/apartment and its garden, pool, hot tub, etc.

Make sure you read all the reviews for the Airbnb accommodation you’re considering. Make sure its suitable and safe for children. Often they will be able to provide travel cots so you don’t need to schlep one around with you – just make sure you check in advance if your hosts can provide this for you. You can even arrange for a cleaner to come in periodically at some properties, for an extra charge.

If your Airbnb accommodation is fairly far away from the airport where you’ll be landing and your flight gets in late at night, it might be advisable to just book a hotel near the airport and crash that first night you get in and worry about picking up car rentals or travelling long distances by car/train/boat the next morning. This is what we do. It keeps the continuity of domestic bliss – travel-related frustrations are a prime time trigger for spats and domestic arguments.

We like using Lonely Planet guides when we travel, and highly recommend them for researching interesting things to do in the area where you plan to travel. Most libraries have them, so you don’t necessarily even need to buy them. Trip Advisor can also be very helpful.

2. Packing

Pack Light – You’ll know best how to pack for your family and for what you plan to do when you get to your destination, but I do recommend that you pack fairly light. You’ll all usually end up wearing the same 3-4 outfits over and over and if you’re staying at an Airbnb you’ll likely have your own washing machine (and perhaps dryer) so you can wash your clothes as often as you need to.

Layering – Bring clothes you can layer. I’ve gone to ‘cold’ destinations to find I was boiling in an unseasonal heatwave and have gone to sunny destinations where it was colder than London (and I only had a beachy sort of wardrobe packed).

Two Pairs of shoes (max) – Keep shoes to a minimum. I often waste suitcase weight/space on shoes that we simply never end up wearing. You’ll have much better memories of your holiday if you and the kids all have comfortable shoes that keep your feet pain-free after lots of walking around and sight-seeing.

Compact Toiletries – I do travel with all the toiletries and make up I need, but my rule is that it all has to fit inside my size medium LL Bean toiletries bag. (As a former Vermonter, I do love my LL Bean!) My husband has one too for all his toiletries and shaving gear. I did lots of online research and read lots of reviews on these toiletries bags before deciding on this one. Some people have had theirs for 15 years plus and they are still in top shape. They also unzip and have a little built in hanger so you can hang them off a towel hook and keep everything tidy (and above toddler reach). I’ve recommended these to so many people, I should be getting a commission on these things! When my daughter gets older, she’ll get her own, but meanwhile she just shares with one of us because all she really has is a toothbrush, a tangle teaser, some Owie (which you can order here), a couple of bandaids and a small bottle of Calpol (just in case).

By packing light, you’ll have room to bring all the things that really matter – enough eco-disposable or cloth nappies (if your little one is still in them) and any food items you know that you or your kids couldn’t do without. I’m vegan, so I always pack a few chocolate chip Cliff bars so I know that I have something protein-filled to snack on, some Ningxia Red packets (to provide antioxidant support after the radiation exposure on the flight) and I also bring a small box of UHT plant based milk, for my tea/coffee on that first morning we are at our destination. My daughter is a huge fan of strawberry Yoyos, a natural version of a Fruit Rollup they sell here in the UK. They come in paper & card packaging so aren’t the most zero waste of snacks, but they aren’t too bad and they travel well in both hot and cold climates. This is also your chance to pack the ‘right shape of pasta’ or whatever your kid’s particular non-negotiable foible is. (For us, its porridge oats which are milled to our daughter’s exacting specifications – not too flaky, not too jumbo.) Don’t overdo it, but just be prepared.

3. Getting to the Airport

If you live in an urban area near your airport (and don’t have a kind family member to drop you off) its probably just easier to order a cab to collect you, but make sure its a very reputable firm you trust to show up on time. I’ve had local car companies let me down before. Companies which specialise in airport cars are more reliable in my experience and you can pre-pay for them. Give yourself more time at the airport than you think you will need – if you have an extra 45 minutes hanging out past security, big deal. Go to Starbucks or Pret (with your reusable cup) and have a coffee, or peruse the duty free shops. Whatever floats your boat. Its so much better to be a bit early.

You can also pre-book airport parking which is usually a really cheap option if you do it far enough in advance, but be aware that the transport vans which take you from the car park to the airport terminal are sometimes not too spacious (think tiny babies in bulky car seats) and don’t have safe booster seats for toddlers travelling – its a short distance, but still usually is about 10-15 minutes of driving from the offsite car park to the terminal and its often on a stretch of busy road.

If we have an early flight from Gatwick we pre-book an overnight at the Premier Inn at the North Terminal. (I’m not a budget hotel gal, but this chain is so so clean and comfortable in my experience.) They have a SleepParkFly package which includes up to 15 nights of free parking when you stay overnight there (with free meet & greet parking upon your return), so the cost of staying over is negligible (often the whole package is cheaper than the standard car parking package) and your car is waiting for you at the airport when you get back. Check if your local airport budget hotel does something similar. For us its amazing waking up and simply walking our sleepy toddler across the zebra crossing to the airport entrance – no early morning panic.

There is also the option of taking public transport which I find is just all too much for me when throwing a child and luggage for three people into the mix. But if you know your public transport is reliable, there’s no planned delays or works on the line, and it will get you there quickly without too many changes – then go for it.

Oh yeah…and before you leave for the airport, just make sure you have your kid’s stroller packed. I’m not kidding…this has happened to us before and we ended up having to find a stroller rental shop at our destination.

4. Flying to your destination

This can be really hard, especially if you’re flying with your little one(s) on your own, as I often do. When my daughter was a baby, I’d simply nurse her during take off and she’d fall into a deep sleep which would last most of the flight. Now that she’s older, its a bit harder to keep her happy on long flights. Some kids seem to get locked in to the inflight entertainment or an iPad, but that can often frustrate my little one and it makes her edgy, cranky and eventually ends in total melt down. We’ve found that old school entertainment like magic painting books (only water required!), a few dinosaur toys, and some crayons and colouring books work well. I don’t usually buy disposable literature, but its become a bit of a tradition (and a treat) for my daughter to get a Cebeebies magazine at the airport before each flight and it is worth every penny for the hours of entertainment it provides. It also includes a couple of toys which won’t induce a lifelong trauma when they inevitably get lost. (But if you know that the iPad will make your flight a harmonious one, then just go for it – just put it away when you get to your destination and don’t let it dominate the whole holiday.)

There won’t be any food served on budget airlines, so I usually go to Pret a Manger or Leon at the airport and stock up on some yummy sandwiches and snacks to keep everybody happy during the flight. I love starting my flight off with a coconut cappuccino!

If I’m really super organised I’ll have prepped a meal at home, at least for our daughter. I pack it in our eco-lunchbox which is also handy to have at our destination for making snack boxes to take down to the beach or on day trips. (Even if you’re staying at a hotel, you can load it up at the breakfast buffet to create a snack box for your toddler who will inevitably want to eat at the most inconvenient time imaginable.) Its never been something I consider a mistake to bring or a waste of space and it saves us a lot of money buying expensive, junky snack food while we’re out.

We also try to keep things reasonably zero waste, so I usually choose to have no in-flight meal for my daughter and myself (my husband always gets one) if its a flight under 7 hours. I find the amount of waste produced by in-flight meals really distressing and its not like the food is that great anyway. Just pack lots of yummy things from home supplemented by a few special treats picked up at the airport (if that’s your idea of a treat). My daughter loves the reassurance of having food that mommy has made and it makes the trip far more peaceful for her and for us. As long as any liquid or soupy consistency foods are kept under 100ml in containers which hold no more than 100ml maximum, you’ll be fine. Bring water bottles for everybody and fill them up at the filtered water fountain after you pass security. This way you won’t have to drink the plastic bottled water on the plane – at least until you exhaust your own supplies.

For babies drinking formula, you should be fine getting those past security. Be aware that you are entitled to bring a reasonable amount of formula to meet your baby’s requirements for the journey and the 100ml limit does not apply here. If you are travelling with a formula fed infant, you’ll find it far more comfortable to bring enough of your own supplies with you in your checked luggage rather than relying on buying formula at your destination. Babies can be so funny about tastes and brands and although the formulas being sold in other countries are likely to be safe and fine, you might not be able to read the ingredient list, and you’re really best off having an adequate supply of the product you know brought from your home country. For more details, check out this article from Hipp Organics which sets out all your rights and has some good advice.

When it comes to pumped breastmilk, you never know what stupidheads you might encounter though, and many a mama has had to dump her precious stash. Although the rules vary from country to country, in the UK, US and Canada you are entitled to pack breastmilk in your hand luggage. Here are the UK, US and Canadian rules for travelling with pumped breastmilk in your hand luggage, as they vary on quantities allowed and how the milk will be screened by security.

5. Once you get there

Sometimes your host will meet you at the property, but most hosts simply install a key safe and will email you the necessary security codes to access the keys. (Write these down somewhere just in case your phone battery dies or you lose your phone.) Your little one(s) might be exhausted when they get to the property (or hyper and overtired). It might be a good idea to encourage a nap or some quiet down-time while you unpack and get yourself situated into the property.

This is a good opportunity to look at the information folder your host will have left you and see if there is a local supermarket they recommend. Otherwise, you should be able to find one on Google. Personally, I love grocery shopping in foreign countries, seeing what the local foods are like and trying all the local vegan brands. I always pack a couple of lightweight reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags in case we’re lucky enough to come a farmers market.

We don’t like to over-schedule or over-plan when travelling with young children. Its actually no fun for anyone if you try to cram too many activities into each day, as you’ll end up dragging screaming, overtired children out of museums or attractions you’ve spent a fortune to see. But you also don’t want to find you’ve left your destination without having done any of the activities or having seen any of the sights you wanted to. We sketch out a rough schedule (we’re talking back of an envelope here) of the things we want to do and build in a few relaxation days or unplanned days. This allows for spontaneity and in the mornings we can wake up and check the weather before deciding to spend the day at the beach or going on a hike or seeing a cultural site. You definitely can do all these things with kids, but just don’t push it. Remember its their holiday too. We always plan in a special day of stuff just for our daughter, even on short breaks. It often ends up being our favourite day of the holiday.

Let snacktimes and mealtimes happen as usual – pack enough food, snacks and water for yourself and the kids for day trips or outings and if it looks like the kiddos are getting sleepy, try to allow time for a bit of a snooze – in the buggy, on a picnic blanket in the shade after lunch or in the car while you’re driving. Remember, they’re little, and seeing all new things and their little brains are working hard assimilating a lot of new information and maybe even hearing a new language. They deserve a little down time and you’ll probably even find its good for you too.


The Certifications You Need to Find the Right “Green” Mattress

A mattress isn’t something you think about until it’s time for a new one. With millions of mattresses sent to landfills each year, they’ve become a growing concern because of the difficulty of their disposal. Growing environmental and human health concerns have begun to change the mattress industry. Today, with the help of certifications from independent organizations, you can find a mattress made through sustainable methods with low environmental impact, and that won’t expose you or your family to harmful chemicals.

Look for Certifications

Mattresses are a complex product with many layers that each have to go through their own manufacturing processes before reaching consumers. In addition to the complexity of the product, the mattress industry does not have a governing body that sets standards or regulations for what constitutes a “green” mattress.

Labels like “organic,” “all-natural,” or even “eco-friendly” may only apply to one component of the mattress or one step of the manufacturing process. Rather than relying on sales labels, it’s better to read the mattresses’ materials list and look for certifications by independent organizations that monitor environmental, social, and human health-related concerns such as:

  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100: For this certification, eighteen independent institutes from Europe and Japan test products to be sure they do not exceed established limits for certain chemicals.

  • CertiPUR-US: This certification only applies to products that use polyurethane foam. The foam is tested for chemical emissions as well as other harmful materials like lead.

  • Eco-Institut: Based in Germany, the Eco-Institut is an independent certification organization that tests for harmful emissions and chemical substances in textiles and building materials. They most often certify latex mattresses.

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS focuses on organic fibers, evaluating both raw materials and their derivatives. The certification is only given to products made with 95 percent certified organic materials. The remaining 5 percent cannot contain other materials that have been known to be harmful to humans, like polyfoam or formaldehyde.

  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): GOLS only evaluates latex products and is similar to GOTS in that the latex must be at least 95 percent organically produced. Natural latex mattresses may have both a GOTS and GOLS certification.

  • OEKO-TEX MADE IN GREEN: This certification looks at the processes used to produce products and monitors the sustainability of manufacturing practices.

  • Cradle to Cradle: To receive this certification organic fibers and materials are examined and tested for a variety of sustainable criteria like carbon emissions, water conservation, and ecological impact. It is most often applied to natural latex and the organic materials used in mattress covers.

Green Mattress Options

Though there’s no mattress on the market that’s 100 percent green, there are several mattress options that are environmentally friendly. No matter what type of bed you choose, you can check the materials used in the mattress for environmentally friendly options, such as:

  • Plant-based polyfoam and memory foam

  • Organic fibers in the mattress cover like wool and cotton

  • Wool, cotton, thistle, or Kevlar fire socks (Kevlar is not a natural substance but does not have to be treated with any chemicals during production.)

These substances can be found in the basic mattress types—foam, innerspring, hybrid. However, the most environmentally friendly and only mattress option that’s biodegradable is natural latex.

Natural latex mattresses are made from the sap of the rubber tree, a sustainable resource. The sap must go through one of two manufacturing processes, Dunlop or Talalay. The Dunlop process produces a dense, durable mattress with a thicker layer of latex on the bottom. This process is simple, energy efficient, leaves a small carbon footprint, and is less expensive than the Talalay process. (Though it should be noted that latex mattresses are amongst the most expensive mattresses on the market.) The Talalay process takes more resources but produces a softer, bouncier mattress than the Dunlop process.

These natural latex mattresses are technically biodegradable but it takes years to break down, and there will still be a small amount of material left over. They also have some synthetic latex, which is derived from petrochemicals, and these chemicals are expensive.

If a 95 percent natural latex mattress is out of your budget, some natural latex mattresses use a Dunlop core for its denseness with Talalay comfort layers to get the benefits of both. Other manufacturers have begun to combine innersprings with latex for the sustainability of the latex and comfort of the innerspring. These hybrids aren’t as expensive and offer a good combination of comfort and affordability.

You’ll have to weigh in not only environmental and human health concerns when choosing a mattress but comfort issues as well. Look for a mattress with the right certifications so that you know it’s been produced in an eco- and human-friendly way but will also allow you to get a good night’s rest for years to come.

This article was a non-paid collaboration (guest post) with bestmattressreviews.com, a small but valuable website from Seattle staffed by a team of veterans from the mattress industry who write about sleep health and conduct independent reviews on sleep products.

Rick Blanchard is an expert on sleep product materials and manufacturing for BestMattressReviews.com. His research covers the entire life cycle of mattresses and bedding, including production, wear over time, and disposal. Rick lives in Tarrytown, New York.

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.

And now head on over to my fellow green blogger MumBalance to see how her family did with their Zero Waste Challenge.

Green & Sustainable Style Edit – July 2016

This month I’ve pulled together a sophisticated, but bright and summery capsule wardrobe featuring clothing from eco clothing brand, Komodo.

I’ve paired up a black SENS t-shirt made from 100% bamboo with a pair of lightweight, sulphur coloured ADAM tencel linen shorts.  In case you’ve not heard of tencel, its a very sustainable fabric made from wood cellulose, and is one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics on the market.  I’ve also opted for this 100% organic cotton gathered tie dress  in black from People Tree for more formal occasions and to take the look into the evening.

OLOL July Style Edit Clothing

Both looks go equally well with the accessories I’ve chosen.  I know there are plenty of 443512-290be77a2dd24ddeb0bb7aeb43bc27adother eco-brands of shoes on the market now which probably have better eco credentials, but I’ve been wearing Birkenstocks since I was about 15 and I’m not going to stop now.  I always make sure I get the most out of each pair by caring for them well and getting them resoled as needed.  These gold crackle effect sandals look great paired with a cork & gold oversized clutch from Etsy and this simple gold layered necklace from Komodo or a pair of Brazilian paxiubinha seed earrings from LauraBijoux.  With 20 years of jewellery design experience, Brazilian expat Laura Torster now lives in Portugal and she ships her eco creations worldwide.  She’s also very happy to work with you to create something bespoke for you and at the moment I’ve commissioned her to create a pair the same earrings pictured above for me, but with a spring loaded loop, as I am one of those rare individuals without pierced ears.

OLOL Style Edit Accessories

When it comes to sunglasses, I’ve always slightly struggled with the eco options.  They’re often made from bamboo and are probably great if you have one of those faces that looks good wearing classic RayBan wayfarers.  But I don’t have one of those faces.  And I was so happy to find these stylish and feminine black & honey MARINO sunglasses from Antonio Verde, made from recycled plastic and bamboo.

AV1608_004_black_honey

I always would encourage anyone to shop sustainably by going to charity shops and second hand clothing stores, however sometimes its hard to get specific pieces you might need when shopping this way, and so I want to share these style updates as a regular, up to date resource guide for you to find out what is out there in the eco fashion world.  I have done style edits in the past, but as I’ve started to research and connect with all the wonderful companies out there producing green and sustainable fashion, I want to get a chance to feature as many as I can. In particular, UK-based companies. There has been a great response from nearly everyone I’ve approached so far.

I have not been compensated (financially or in kind) for featuring any of the brands listed in this style edit.  I just genuinely like them. Komodo have, however, been kind enough to provide me with some lovely high res images to use in this feature and they’ve also tipped me off with some insider information that their summer sale is due to start later this week on their website: www.komodo.co.uk.

I hope this inspires to you to check out some of these eco brands when you’re updating your wardrobe this summer.

Zero Waste Travel

One of the things I love about travel is the feeling of freedom and how you realise that you can actually live without most of the stuff you own.  But making sure you actually leave a small footprint behind you when you go home is even more important.  I’m sure there are other ways to travel zero waste by hiking cross country and camping, or staying at youth hostels with shared kitchens, etc.  But I’m in my 30’s and I have  a young child.  And I like to be comfortable.  So I’m going to share what works for us.

Where to Stay

When we first book a holiday, as soon as the flights are confirmed, we go onto the AirBnB website (click here to save £25 or $31 on your first booking), check out the reviews and rent an apartment in the location where we are planning to travel. In the past we have also used VRBO and Home Away websites as well.  We find this is the most comfortable, cost effective and low waste way for us to travel. By having our own private apartment we can pack light (taking one carry on suitcase each) and travel with a capsule wardrobe that we can wash every few days in the washing machine at the flat. Most Airbnb apartments provide washing powder but we bring a gentle and ecologically friendly one with us. We also shop at the local supermarket and farmer’s markets, buying organic, healthy foods in as low waste packaging as possible, and then cook our own healthy meals. We’ll usually go out for restaurant lunches during the day, but we sometimes also prepare packed lunches to take with us for day trips. We can afford to have the option to do that when we’re saving on the costs of expensive breakfasts and dinners by eating at the apartment.  Another way in which renting an apartment is more zero waste-friendly than staying in a hotel is because you will be able to use the recycling and composting services available to residents, rather than having to throw your apple cores or empty glass jars in the garbage knowing they will needlessly go to landfill.  You can also bring any composting or recycling waste you accumulate throughout the day back to the apartment (such as lunch leftovers or plastic water bottles in case you get caught out and are desperate for a drink – it happens) and put it in the correct bin.

This was our view from our alfresco dining table on our private balcony from our last holiday rental…not many restaurants can boast a view like this:

OLOL Zero Waste Travel Amalfi Italy

What to Pack

No matter how long the holiday, we allow ourselves one carry on suitcase each.  Not only is travelling light easier, but its cheaper too, as we can easily use public transport and can often walk to our apartment from the train station, avoiding taking taxis.  My toiletries kit is usually filled with reusable silicon GoToobs filled with my homemade toiletries or those dispensed from larger containers at home.  You may also note that I mention a mason jar.  Bear with me.  At home I use a separate glass water bottle and a glass coffee mug which I take with me everywhere I go.  But when I travel, my space is limited so a mason jar provides a universal solution.  You can fill it with water and its a water bottle.  Its heat resistant so you can pour tea or coffee into it, so its also your coffee mug.  It also makes a great snack jar for trail mix.  I pack one reusable shopping bag which folds down really tiny and a couple of the reusable produce bags, for buying fruits, breads, etc at the market.  A sandwich box might be useful here if you want to buy berries or cheeses.  The rest of the time you can use it for, you know, carrying around your sandwich.  And finally I take half a dozen organic cotton muslins which can multi task as napkins, handkerchiefs, for wrapping your sandwich up inside its sandwich box (instead of cling film) or for wrapping up baked goods bought at the market so to avoid having to take a paper or plastic bag.  Then you can clean them in the washing machine at your apartment and they dry quickly, ready to take out and use again.

Here’s an example of what my suitcase contents look like:

  • Capsule wardrobe (I won’t go into detail as obviously what I wear depends on the season and destination, but I keep it pretty simple.)
  • Toiletries kit (GoToobs filled with shampoo, homemade toothpaste, homemade deodorant, body lotion and homemade aftersun gel.  Eye cream.  Face oil.  Bamboo toothbrush.  Possibly sun protection cream, if required.  Razor.  Makeup bag.  My 10 ‘first aid’ essential oils kit.)
  • Mason jar
  • Sandwich box
  • Reusable shopping bag & produce bags
  • Clipper tea bags (because finding organic tea in unbleached bags is near impossible!)
  • 6 organic cotton muslin squares (yes, like the ones for your baby!)
  • iPad (for movies, emails and day trip planning)
  • Book (I can’t help it…I’m not a Kindle girl.  I love a good real book when I travel!)

Souvenirs

Its easy to get caught up while on holiday and buy loads of stuff you’ll wonder what to do with when you get home.  You don’t need to buy anything to bring home though.  Some people like to bring home their train tickets and flight stubs to glue into their journals.  My husband loves to buy the tackiest, most gaudy resin magnet he can find and that is his single souvenir from each trip.  I don’t entirely approve of this, as these horrible bits of resin will be probably languishing in a landfill long after we’re dead and gone.  (Surely no one will want to inherit them!)  But it brings him joy, so I have to have a somewhat balanced perspective when it comes to these things.  As for me, I make these ‘memory jars’ filled with sand, pebbles, shells and sea glass from each of our beach holidays.  I reuse the plastic ziplock bag they make you use at airport security to put your liquid toiletries in by using it to store collected beach treasures and a bit of sand or pebbles.  Then, when I get home I put the contents of the bag into an old glass jam jar and add a luggage tag noting the date and location of the holiday for the contents of each jar.  I keep them in my secretary desk and each time I open it, I smile, remembering how happy each holiday made me.

OLOL Memory Jars Zero Waste

Traveling with Children

Traveling with children can be actually really zero waste-friendly.  By staying in a rented apartment or house, rather than a hotel, you can continue to use your homemade wipes and cloth nappies because you can machine wash them as often as you need to.  Its much easier to prepare your child’s snacks and meals in a real kitchen with fresh ingredients from the market or supermarket, rather than constantly having to buy expensive packaged and potentially unhealthy snacks on-the-go.

I hope you find some of these tips useful in helping you to have a zero waste holiday…or at least to help you reduce some of the waste you might normally create when on holiday.  Being able to travel is a wonderful experience in life, but it is so important to keep our planet as clean and beautiful as we can so our children and grandchildren can experience it in the same way that we have.  What about you?  Do you have any great zero waste holiday tips to share with me in the comments below?

 

 

Zero Waste Shopping

So its 9 days into my Zero Waste Challenge and I’m feeling uncomfortably close to having filled up the jar where I’ve been keeping all the non-recyclable and non-compostable household waste.  (With the exception of the biodegradable nappies we use for overnights on our baby…I’m not storing those up until the end of the month.) Regardless of the outcome, I promise to be honest and to share with you how much garbage our household produces this month.

It has become very clear over the last week what the main culprit is for us: the non-recyclable plastic film that the big supermarkets like Sainsburys and Waitrose use to package EVERYTHING. There is no reason that this film cannot be made from a recyclable  material and indeed sometimes its not even necessary at all.  Ideally as a zero waste family would make the time to go to a bulk food store or join a food co-op, but its been a slightly difficult week or so for us as my husband has put his back out and I’ve been running the  entire household on my own.  So time has been precious, meaning quick trips to the supermarket have been the reality of the situation when it comes to shopping for food.  But that’s fine because most people shop at supermarkets and it means I’ve been having to try to figure out ways of acquiring less garbage with my food while shopping in this type of environment.

Check the label:

I know, I know.  You’re already checking the label to make sure the stuff is GMO-free, organic, yadda yadda yadda, and now on top of all that, you have to check whether the packaging is recyclable.  To be entirely honest with you, if I have to choose between some kind of GMO, canola oil, glucose-fructose filled piece of junk food in recyclable packaging and something organic and healthy in non-recyclable packaging, I am probably going to opt for the latter, with some amount of accompanying guilt.  But usually it doesn’t come down to that.  Just check the packaging for what you’re buying and if it isn’t recyclable, just try to keep it to a minimum.  And obviously, buying ‘real food’ from the bulk aisle helps a lot.

Take your own produce & bulk food bags:

These little produce bags are great and you can shove them inside your main shopping tote, or even stash a couple in your handbag in case you need to do some unexpected shopping while you’re out.  They’re light, so they roughly match the weight of the plastic bags provided by the store, and can be used for any type of fresh produce.  They’re also great in the bulk section of the supermarket because they just as easily hold dried grains, beans & pulses, nuts, flours and even dried fruits (as long as they’re not too sticky).  Finally, they’re also useful in the baked goods section as they will hold loaves of bread or bread rolls and will store them nicely at home too.  You will want to throw them in the washing machine for a short cycle after each use to avoid any cross-contamination.  I liked these organic cotton, linen and silk ones which I found on Etsy and I’ve included the links in the photo credits at the bottom of this article:

Zero Waste Produce Bags.jpg

Take your own shopping totes:

Since the introduction of the 5p per bag charge here in the UK, I think we are all getting better at doing this.  I always keep a foldaway shopping bag in my handbag as well, in case I end up buying something on the hoof while I’m out.  Here’s an article I found on realsimple.com road testing the various brands reusable shopping bags.

When you get home:

At this point you may wonder “Okay lady, I’ve brought home my bulk food packaged in its organic, reusable packaging…now what?”  Well, now you need something to put your stuff in to store it.

Its up to you at this point, but for dry goods I recommend opting for glass storage jars for your family’s health and wellbeing for these reasons.  The easiest solution for a really slick look is head on over to Ikea, choose a design you like which is going to be practical and air tight,  as well as something that comes in a variety of sizes from little jars for peanut butter to mahoosive jars for flour…and then stock up.  But if you are on more of a budget, you can use recycled jam jars (I love empty Bonne Maman jam jars and use them for everything) and mason jars are great too!  You may find larger jars at vintage shops.  I would recommend investing in a wide mouth funnel to avoid the frustration of spillage when transferring from the bags to the jars.

Fresh fruits and vegetables can be placed in the fridge, the fruit bowl or in a wicker storage basket lined with a clean linen cloth, as appropriate for each item.

Jars for Storage

Photo Credits: Pexels (header) Kootsac (silk bags), OhHelloHenry (linen bread bag) and TheLandofWishes (organic cotton bags), Ikea and Mason (jars)