Steps towards Zero Waste in cosmetics and the day to day

I haven’t written much on the ‘simple life’ stuff  lately, partly because I’ve moved and it’s harder to do in my new home! However what I have been focused on is moving towards zero waste living. I’d previously been doing this, but I’m happy to see it’s now got a name and a bit of a movement – google it and you should find other ideas. However here are some of the steps I’ve taken:

  • while more fresh fruit and veg, deliberately avoiding the kind that is wrapped in plastic, unless it’s in the ‘reduced’ section and about to go out of date.
  • carrying around a travel mug and/or reusable coffee cup, particularly to my new church where they use paper cups, but also when out and about. (Though I’m thinking about giving up coffee tbh)
  • changed shampoo, conditioner and body wash for ‘soap’-like blocks from Lush Cosmetics. There is minimal paper wrapping that is optional, and no plastic.
  • For moisturiser, I’m using up some old almond oil, but I’m going to shift between a mixture of Lush massage bars and their hand/body lotions that come in black plastic tubs that they recycle themselves.
  • carrying reusable bags everywhere.
  • at work when they are putting on events, committing that I’ll do the washing up rather than using disposable plates and cups. Though, the last time I did this, I was running the event and someone washed up before I could get round to it…

One of the problems with modern environmentalism is that it looks for ways to ameliorate the effects of our current practices, such as offering recycling. But much stuff put into recycling bins don’t get recycled. The real solution is to reduce consumption and stop producing so much waste.

Blog: Tanzania and “How planting trees can tackle poverty”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Sorry I’m a bit late with this. I took a trip to Tanzania to observe the work of a charity – Plant With Purpose – and see how permaculture ideas, Christian faith and development can be integrated holistically to help people. I’m writing a few articles about it, here’s the first short piece for Christian Today, about how something as simple as a tree can help people as well as improve the environment.

For people on the breadline, the link between the environment and poverty is much clearer and easier to see. A significant root cause of poverty is the state of the land.

The picture is of a beautiful area in this lovely community of Marangu that’s been set aside as a nature reserve, and it’s truly gorgeous. Leaving nature to do its work has also brought them a new water source – good news for rural farmers in a hot country. They were so generous and welcoming – it was an amazing experience.

If you’ve any questions about the work, I’d be really happy to answer them.

Cycling and walking solve a lot of problems

I’ve just given up my car, mainly due to the cost, and the fact I didn’t use the car that much. Most of the journeys I make can be made by bike or public transport. I’d been putting off selling it, as I’ve not been well, and also I do use it for church stuff. But when I worked out how much it costs me each month, I could pay for taxis and occasionally cars easily within the money I save.

There are many problems solved by this approach:

  • I save a lot of cash
  • I do more exercise
  • I’m more connected with my surroundings – I’m enjoying the outside more
  • I don’t have the road rage aggro or parking anxiety
  • I’m no longer expected to give lots of lifts, so I save time

The downside will be in the rainy spells – but I live in a dry part of the country, so it’s easier. Hills are also a problem. But so far, so good.

Ways to reduce waste and plastic

I’m setting myself a personal challenge, to reduce the stuff in my waste bin as much as possible. I’m even trying to find ways of re-using the stuff that can go in the recycling bin. Here are a few ideas I’ve been trying, that haven’t been too difficult. Let me know your ideas…

Replace tissues with hankies

Replace plastic dishwashing brushes/sponges with cotton dishcloths

Replace kitchen towel with cotton dishcloths

Search for food sold in paper bags rather than plastic

Choose loose fruit and veg at the counter, and don’t use plastic bags to put them in (even better, get an organic veg box)

Buy Ecoleaf toilet tissue – you can compost the wrapper

Get milk delivered in old fashioned milk bottles

Use re-usable bags for shopping

Make bricks for your fire with all your scrap paper and junk mail

I found this great blog recently – Trash is for Tossers – try it for some more ideas

Obeying the Bible means living a radical, green life

It was great to see so many people out marching for Climate change around the world last weekend. It’s always good to see a community getting together for a common cause. But will it change anything? I doubt it. Governments already know that a significant minority of their populations are concerned about climate change. What will really change the situation is not going on marches, but changing the way we live.

And, encouragingly for Christians, this way of living is laid out pretty clearly in the Bible. In fact, even if you don’t believe in climate change, if you want to take the Bible seriously, you’ve to live a life that is in agreement with the greenest and most right-on environmental protesters.

Why? Well, anything that is producing carbon and going into the atmosphere, is related to consumption. It’s caused by money, or more to the point, it’s caused by some people having too much money and greed. It’s now the norm for our culture to be going off on foreign holidays via plane, even twice a year, having two cars, changing technology every few months, eating vegetables that were flown from the other side of the world. And what makes all this possible? Having too much cash, and then choosing to spend it on ourselves rather than on helping others. This is a lifestyle that we’re all caught up in in the West, and dealing with it is a lot harder than going on a march. Our societies need root and branch reform, and the Bible is the best place to start. I think this passage is key to the issue:

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” 1 Tim 6:6-10

How true this Bible quote is. Greed, and the lust for entertainment, stuff, activity and fashion, has lulled us into this situation, where the world’s resources are scarce and we’re wasting them on consumer goods and leisure rather than investing them into people and the planet. We have a model in Jesus, who was so low-impact that he didn’t even have his own house (Luke 9:58). We’re told to be stewards of the Earth and all the living things in it (Gen 1:28). When we think of Matt 25 we normally remember that those who go to eternal punishment are those who have not helped the sick, the imprisoned and the hungry. But Rev 11:18 also points out that those who destroy the earth will be in this group. So if we’re God’s people, then we’ll be caring for people and caring for the Earth too.

Breaking our addiction to consumption, cars, boys toys and all the trappings of the modern world will take a long time. In the same way as an addiction to crack or alcohol, it takes Jesus to fill the hole that the addiction leaves and repair the damage. This in and of itself will direct our attention from entertainment and buying stuff, towards helping others and loving Creation, in all its beautiful variety. We’ll not be working every hour God gives us, but working fewer hours because we’ll need less money: truly we’ll be serving God and not filthy lucre (Matt 6:24). We’ll have more time for our friends and family, and serving our community, even putting on dinner parties for the lost and broken (Luke 14:13). We’ll be able to give away the money we do have to good causes.

I can hear the mini-me Richard Dawkins of the twitter world howling in outrage at what I’ve just said, thinking of the gas-guzzling SUVs and private jets of certain parts of the Christian community, especially in America. But it’s not our job to shout at them, it’s our job to lead by example. And perhaps we need to get the log out of our own eye, before we can help others get the speck out of theirs (Matt 7:3-5). We need more than shifting to a green tariff, reusing plastic bags and buying recycled paper, to get the almighty, rotten trunk out of our own eyes.

Living a life worthy of that 1 Tim passage, and to be content with just having enough food and clothing to survive, is radically different from our Western culture. But as the ancient monks and nuns discovered, it can leave more space for what’s really good, and what’s really God. After all, it’s His Earth, not ours.

Potatoes grow fruit that look like tomatoes – who knew?

You learn something new every day. At the veg social enterprise I’m involved in, all the potato plants have long since died, but they’ve left these funny looking little fruits behind. Apparently it’s rare, but potato flowers will become fruit in the right conditions. The little fruits contain seeds that can be harvested and stored like tomatoes, and sown the next year. This will produce lots of new varieties of potatoes. Whatever you do don’t eat the fruit – they’re poisonous!

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I’m going to try it out next year. Have you ever done this? Let me know how it went. I’ve also got some beans stored, and apparently they’ll develop into new varieties too. Waste not, want not, n all that.

Really healthy raw chocolate brownies

Mmmmm… this is a great recipe for Raw chocolate brownies, and it’s genuinely good for you. I used orange peel rather than essence, this seems to have worked well. Plus you can just keep it in the freezer and eat whenever you want. I enjoyed licking out the bowl even more than for buttercream, and that’s saying something. Enjoy! 🙂

Cheap cupboard nut roast

If you’ve got some nuts to use up, but no fresh food, and a food processor, this recipe is great. I made it up myself. No eggs, either!

300g mixed nuts
Tin tomatoes
1 small onion or large clove garlic, chopped
Big handful fresh herbs: basil, parsley (or heaped tsp dried)
1 can beans (red kidney, cannellini etc)
100g dried out wholemeal bread
1tsp mustard
Generous salt n pepper
Bit of oil

It’s really easy. Put the nuts and bread into the food processor and process until all are chunky. Then put everything else in, and blend until a paste that still has chunks of nuts etc. Oil a loaf tin, and put the paste in. Put in oven at about 180 c for approx. 50 mins – but keen an eye out and check whether burning. Check middle cooked, then tip out onto a serving plate.
I chill this and wrap up portions for the freezer – I can stick it into the microwave and use throughout winter. Enjoy!

Saving jam jars – what to do with them?

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I’ve got a huge box of jam jars. Some of them are soaking in hot water at the moment, in preparation for making some lovely bramble and apple jam (some great free food in my area at the moment). I’ve been saving these jars for ages, and wondered if I’d ever get round to using them. I’d been hoping to make apple jam and chutney every year, when my apple trees produce their harvest, and did it for the first time last year. I gave them away as presents at Christmas, and ate my way through them too.

But there have been some other uses for the jam jars.

  • Sprouting seeds in them, a good way of making fresh food when you haven’t been to the shops for a while.
  • Chucking out old oil, rather than putting it down the sink.
  • Using them to hold water when painting.

So all in all, I’m glad I’ve kept these old jars hanging around, rather than putting them out for the recycling van.

Picking brambles: freely available fruit

I notice that fruit on the bramble that’s happily set root in my garden is about to ripen. Free fruit, with absolutely no effort to me. Great. No way is it a weed.

I’ll have lots more too, soon. Near where I live, there is a great big quarry, which has been overrun by brambles. Remarkably last year, two weeks after they started to ripen, there was still an abundance of blackberries to pick. I had seen a few Polish guys having a go, and many of the good berries were out of my reach. But there were still plenty to be had, and they are totally free.

I picked 1kg of brambles in total. I froze about a quarter of these, made another quarter into a smoothie, and have made apple and blackberry jam with the rest. I’ll put up the recipes at some point. This year I’d like to make blackberry cordial, too. The latter two are a great way to reuse jam jars and bottles, part of my quest to have no waste.

You’ve got to watch out for the creepy crawlies, and give the fruit a good wash. I avoided all brambles that were lower than the height of a dog, even if they were particularly plump… for obvious reasons.

It did make my hands go purple, but the dog loved prowling around while I was busy!

Stuff. Addictions. Simplicity. Why live a simple life?

Shopaholic

Shopaholic (Photo credit: Monerda)

What do you worship? What can’t you live without? It might be your fast car, lipstick or your football team. It might be your new house, your carefully selected wardrobe or your TV. It might even be your partner or your job. I think that making a list of these things can really help us to learn spiritually.

If we look at Jesus, we see someone whose only priorities were loving people and his Father. He told us in Matthew 8:20 that he had ‘no place even to lay his head’. He was homeless, and without possessions. He was supported by some disciples, we learn in Luke, and he was blessed with other people’s perfumes and hospitality. But his life was one of pure simplicity: loving, teaching and serving.

If this is our model, we can question some of our attachments to things of this world. Are we actually addicted to our techology and our material possessions? An alcoholic can’t live without his drink – what’s the difference with being attached to other kinds of material objects? What would happen if everything went up in smoke – the computers, the DVDs, the clothes and the cars?

Perhaps material objects were meant only to serve us and help us in our life – but we’re in a situation where most of us are serving them instead. I love this which flies round social media now and then:

We were created to
Love people and use things
The world is in a mess because
We are loving things and using people

The less stuff we have and need, the more we can give to others: of money and time for example. The less time we spend buying and earning, the more time we can spend loving. Let’s follow the example of Jesus, and worship only the Father, and seek our treasure in heaven alone. God is the only thing worthy of worship, after all.

Making free fuel from scrap paper. No more shredding!

I’ve found a great way to beat the fuel crisis, plus avoid all that boring shredding of bank statements and so on.

Turn all that scrap paper into fuel!

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I bought a paper compressor, to make logs with. You have to soak the paper in water, then put it in the compressor, and press down hard. You then have to leave it to dry for a few weeks – so you need space that is reasonably warm. I dried them in the conservatory. The results are on the right in the picture above (the other paper is for kindling)

It’s only just got cold enough to try it out, so I’ve been burning them along with normal paper as kindling and a few coals in my wood-burning stove. The paper logs last almost as long as a normal log.

They call themselves ‘briquette makers’ and all sorts of strange things, but if you google eco paper log maker, you’ll probably find it.  I got mine second-hand on ebay so it was cheap too.

Salmon with nettles & roasted veg

I just had the most delicious meal… made with nettles!

I got about 15 nettle leaves (fairly young ones), washed and chopped, and put them into an aluminium foil parcel. I added about 3 tbsp. of white wine, a glug of olive oil, plus lots of salt n pepper, and then put a frozen salmon fillet on top. I rubbed about 2 tsp of English mustard into the top of the salmon, and wrapped it all up. I popped it into the oven with some potatoes, artichokes and parsnips roasting in thyme alongside it. The fish took about 20 mins (it was a small fillet) and the veg a bit longer… it was delicious!

Rhubarb and ginger jam recipe

I was round at some friends’ house, and they offered me some rhubarb. Now, I love Rhubarb and Ginger jam, and you can’t get it in the shops. So I jumped at the chance.

I adapted a recipe:

1.4kg Rhubarb, clean and trimmed
1.1kg sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ginger paste
200ml water

Use a pan that won’t react – I used a proper jam making pot, but stainless steel will do. Stew rhubarb and ginger in water until soft. Add sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil, boil rapidly for 15 mins or so. When it sets, put on a cold plate to see if a skin forms. Don’t overboil, though.

Meanwhile, sterilise jam jars by putting in oven on 150 degrees for about 10 mins. When jam is ready, spoon into jars. Put a wax disc over jam, ensuring all bubbles are out. Cover with wet cellophane and a jam cover, fix with a rubber band.

I must find a friend who can divide their plant, so I’ve got my own free supply in the garden!

Food from weeds: Nettle soup

I’ve always liked the idea of making food out of garden weeds – I don’t use weeds for compost so usually they end up on the rubbish tip. I’ve liked the idea, but have not been sure about the reality!

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So I decided to be brave and try out this recipe from Good Food magazine, using the very healthy looking nettles that are sprouting around my garden. I only got stung once when picking them. I picked about 200g, which was the leaves of about 8-10 tall nettles.

It’s basically a simple vegetable soup: potatoe, carrot, leek and onion with nettles. I used milk instead of cream. The recipe just wilts the nettles before blending but I wasn’t so brave, I gave it a good 5-10 minute boil after the nettles had gone in. Although I washed them thoroughly, I was a bit nervous about what had been in the garden. A bit silly, all our food ultimately comes from a garden, with bugs, animals and all sorts running around there.

The soup does not give off a very nice smell, to be honest. It tastes very similar to spinach soup, I think. Not bad at all!

Apparently nettles are nutritious – with vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. That’s pretty good for a weed…

English: Damselfly perched on nettle The wild ...

English: Damselfly perched on nettle The wild plants and weeds growing beside the path are visited by a great number of insects; the iridescent blue of a damselfly, taking a very short rest, is contrasting vividly with the green of the nettles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sugar, spice, and all things nice… like beetroot? Egyptian Lentil Soup Recipe

Close-up picture of cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum).

Close-up picture of cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love a bit of spice. It livens up some really cheap food and makes it taste delicious – especially pulses and lentils! So I loved this recipe from ‘The Spice Routes’ – another cookbook from the World Food Cafe, which produces great ideas.

Egyptian lentil soup

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
2 leeks
2 beetroots (I used pickled beetroot, which needed using up!)
1 potatoe
200g red lentils
Hot water/stock
Seasoning
Lemon

Dry roast the cumin seeds in a pan. Take out and grind. Add dash of olive oil to pan, and fry the chopped onion and garlic until soft. Add ground cumin. Then add rest of veggies, all chopped. Allow to sweat and cook a little. Then add red lentils and enough water and stock to cover everything. Let cook until lentils soft. Add lemon juice. Season, then blend. I used half a lemon because the beetroot would have made it too tart.

Delicious! I’d heartily recommend that cookbook.

Chilli recipe: cheap as chips

This is my favourite low budget recipe. It’s really quick to make and tastes delicious, and I think it must be less than $1 a portion (it’s certainly less than £1 for two)

Chilli and chips

Red onion
Oil
1 tin kidney beans
1 tin tomatoes
Chilli powder / paste to taste

To serve:
Tortilla chips

Optional:
Jalapeno chillis
Yoghurt
Grated cheese

Chop red onion and fry until quite soft. Add chilli to taste, beans and tomatoes. Bring to boil and simmer for about 15 mins. Serve with tortilla chips (you can just dip these in to eat it, you don’t need forks!) and if you’ve got any, cheese and jalapenos. Delicious.

Spiced ginger biscuits made with wholewheat flour

I hate throwing food away, and generally ignore ‘best before’ dates. But, it’s important to use the stuff that’s hanging around in the cupboard! I realised I’ve got loads of brown flour to use up, so looked for a good recipe. These are really delicious – you don’t notice the ‘brownness’ at all. Because I used syrup and not molasses (it’s what was in the cupboard) they’re a bit lighter than this recipe, that it’s adapted from. I only had ground ginger so just used that, but I bet it’s nice with fresh ginger too.

•210g whole wheat flour
•1½ tsp baking soda
•2 tsp ground ginger
•1 tsp cinnamon
•¼ tsp nutmeg
•¼ tsp cloves
•⅛ tsp sea salt
•½ cup dates, chopped finely
•115g butter
•85g dark brown sugar or palm sugar/sucanat
•3 (heaped) tbsp golden syrup
•2 tsp fresh ginger, grated (or extra 3 tsp ground ginger)
•up to ½ C coarse, raw sugar for rolling

Cream butter and sugar together with a whisk; add syrup and fresh ginger. Mix. Add all dry ingredients, slowly. Form into a dough, and put in fridge for one or two hours.
When ready to bake, turn oven to 180 degrees C. Roll mixture into about 20 balls, and roll in dark brown sugar. Put on baking trays about 4cm apart.
Bake for about 10 mins, until the surface looks like it is cracking. Let them completely cool before transferring to a cooling rack and then put in airtight container.

Chocolate and hazelnut muffins

Just a quick one, adapted to use up stuff in my fridge!

220g flour
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsps. baking powder
200g white sugar
50g chopped hazelnuts
200ml fresh milk
100g margarine
1 egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla essence

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Melt marg (just) and wait to cool but still liquid. Beat egg and add to marg with milk and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients. Put in muffin cases, bake for 20mins (ish – check!) at 200 degrees centigrade. They came out delicious!