Can you love Christmas and the planet too?

What would your dream green Christmas look like?

 I recently joined a ‘Crap-Free Christmas’ webinar (online session) hosted by Jen Gale, author of the Sustainable(ish) Living Guides and website, and all of us taking part were asking ourselves this question.

You know the familiar waste hierarchy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Jen has added another layer that’s especially relevant for Christmas – Rethink.  As in, let’s rethink Christmas. We had a go at this during the session.

The problem

  • Twenty per cent of gifts are unwanted. One in 10 go to landfill.  
  • £220m is spent on Christmas jumpers every year. A quarter of these will be worn only once.
  • £280m is spent on office Secret Santas.
  • The miles of wrapping paper used at Christmas would almost reach to the moon.
  • A third of festive food is wasted – 250,000 tonnes; that would make 4.2m Christmas dinners. Two million turkeys and 74 million mince pies go to waste.
  • Council waste collections rise by 30 per cent at this time of year.

Some solutions

 First ask yourself, what do I want Christmas to mean to me and my family?

We are made to feel we should want a festival of excess and consumption. But when asked that question in the webinar most people answered:  down time, daft games, shared times, rest, relaxation. If your ‘love language’ (the way you express love) centres on presents, try to imagine alternatives, such as offering experiences, home-made gifts or volunteering your services.

 We discussed how to take away some of the tension that builds up at this time of year.  One suggestion was to slow down and avoid panic buying.  Then start a conversation with the like-minded souls in your life about how you might do things differently.

And start small – aim to change just one thing this year.  


  •  Don’t guess, ask!  Why buy random things in a mad spending rush just to get it out of the way when you could find out exactly what a person would like?   And play your part too by having suggestions ready when people ask what you or your kids would prefer.  

In her blog about The (Festive) Waste Hierarchy, Jen gives the reminder that the last resort of the hierarchy – Rot – also includes composting. She advises those who don’t yet have a council food waste collection to ‘consider asking Santa for a hot composter to go in your garden…’ We couldn’t agree more!

  • Make a pact to keep receipts so gifts can be exchanged.
  • Do a family Secret Santa (someone suggested Elfster – the online Secret Santa gift generator). Or a second-hand Secret Santa – get a second-hand book, for example, or give a book that you’ve enjoyed. Try WOB (World of Books) – the second-hand online book shop.
  • Resist novelty gifts – they’re usually wasted.
  • Try charity shops for stocking fillers and Christmas jumpers.
  • Buy locally and ethically. Make a pact that 50 per cent of gifts will come from local shops.
  • Make treats as gifts and look out for containers throughout the year to present them in. (This is especially good for pupils to give to teachers). Jen recommends her favourite fudge recipe which can be adjusted with festive flavours.  I tried this out last week as a thank you gift for some work colleagues, one of whom is vegan. So I made a vegan version by using coconut ‘double cream’. I’ll admit that something went a bit wrong with the consistency – I don’t know if it was me or the coconut cream. Let’s blame the cream. To avoid accusations of fudge fraud, I renamed the treats vanilla drops. They were still delicious, even though I had to issue a health and safety warning to suck rather than chew or they’d superglue themselves to unsuspecting teeth. They were greatly appreciated, especially by the vegan recipient. It’s the thought that counts, I told him.

It’s the thought that counts – festive vegan ‘vanilla drops’.


  • Use gifts bags and keep recirculating them.
  • Babipur and Cascayde sell paper-based tape that can be recycled.
  • Furoshiki is a Japanese custom of wrapping gifts in a square piece of reuseable cloth. There are methods online that take seconds to learn.


The carbon footprint of cards comes not just from the card and paper but also the postal service.  Could you send an e-card or make a phone or video call instead to loved ones, especially those in far-flung places?

The modern custom of pupils giving cards to everyone in the class uses two trees’ worth of card and paper per school. Start a conversation about this – suggest the children send one card to the whole class and put them on display or have a Card Secret Santa. This would of course also alleviate the stress of getting kids to write 29 cards or giving up and writing them all yourself. Yes, I’ve been there. Madness.


  •  Beef and lamb have the biggest carbon footprint as a Christmas dinner. Turkey has three times the carbon footprint of chicken. My son who moans every year ‘Why can’t we just have chicken?’ will be delighted to hear this.
  • Have an ‘Eat me first box/shelf’ in your fridge to avoid food waste.
  • Use the Olio app, which helps you to beat waste by sharing and finding things in your local area. 
  • Make a meal plan for the festive fortnight.

Christmas outfits

  • How about suggesting that your children’s school holds Christmas jumper swaps (or Buy a Jumper for £1 stall)? You could also swap other dressing-up outfits, such as Halloween, or World Book Day.
  • If you already have a Christmas jumper, you don’t need a new one. The one you’ve got will last for, oooh…

Rudolph’s return – you can wear him next year – and the next….


  • If you have a fake tree already, the most sustainable option is to keep on using it and pass it on if you decide you no longer want it. We’ve had our fake tree for years and – humblebrag alert – we bought most of the decorations when we moved into our first house in 1990. We don’t do fashion when it comes to Christmas. Because it’s Christmas.  
  • Rent a tree – look up local firms that offer this service: you rent a tree in a pot and return it after Christmas to be replanted.    

At this point in the discussion Jen showed us photos of her alternative trees – there was the green-painted egg-box tree (don’t try this at home) but also the more successful and lovely pom-pom tree that all the family had a hand in making, using freecycled wool. Her husband has also made an impressive pallet tree, which I think has a cool Scandi vibe.

During the webinar, it was great to see people sharing their own easy wins in the chats.  One commentator said she cooked most of the Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve to make the big day easier.  Hearing other people’s ideas opens your eyes to what’s possible.

To finish off, we all made commitments for ourselves. I decided that our Christmas Day meal should only include three vegetable side dishes. Yes, I am aware of how pathetic this sounds now I’ve written it down but don’t judge me, I’m resisting decades of family conditioning here – my mother never met a vegetable she didn’t serve up on Christmas Day. Jen suggested that we could have a family vote about which dishes should be included. This is such a good idea because if anyone complains I can blame Jen. It stands to reason that the more side dishes there are the more waste there will be.

As we signed off, I felt cheerful and optimistic. Crap-free Christmas, I think I’ve got this.  


Since the webinar, I’ve done the following:

  • Asked people for their gift preferences: My mum, a war baby eco-warrior, asked for bokashi spray for her bokashi bin. I will take her at her word but also give her a voucher for a meal at her favourite local restaurant. My sister-in-law asked for her favourite perfume and told me how long it usually lasts (I’ll take that as a hint). My adult sons were offered a choice between boxer shorts and socks, bought from the Impact Positive company Bamboo Clothing).
  • Taken the jam jar idea a stage further by filling them with an ‘I owe U’ for each of my sons, who love eating but not cooking, promising them a meal of their choice cooked to their faffy specifications (without complaining).
  • Sought everybody’s opinions on the turkey/chicken question and there were no objections to having chicken.
  • Tried furoshiki – this is a revelation. It’s so easy and looks nice. You could buy square scarves from charity shops or just use remnants.

A gift wrapped furoshiki-style, above – so much easier and prettier than how this gift came to me from my son last Christmas, below. Before you reproach me for being harsh to a child, can I point out he’s 29?

  • Had a side dish vote – oh my word, why was this so hard? My phone kept pinging with questions – Are potatoes included in the three, or are they assumed? Can two forms of potato – roast and mash – count as one vote? Can’t we just do a long list in order of preference? Are two pea choices – mushy and garden – one choice? This is an ongoing process. I should have started it at Halloween.
  • WOB – another revelation. I bought second-hand books for my husband, sons and myself. (I came across Cold Comfort Farm, which I’ve always wanted to read. I’ll regift it afterwards.)

For more ideas check out:

Christmas eco gifts give back to the planet

Christmas Green Johanna

It’s hard to get something for loved ones who tell you they want nothing.

We get it – there’s nothing worse than the waste of unwanted gifts or yet more clutter. But if a gift can help you to lead a more sustainable life that’s surely a gift that keeps on giving.

  So let our fun festive guide inspire you with ideas for presents that won’t be taken straight to the charity shop in January.


‘Tis the month before Christmas when all through the house not a single thing’s stirring except Rachel’s mouse…

Still on her laptop at midnight, Rachel’s searching for gifts for the family that won’t cost the earth but also won’t cost the Earth.

She’s hit on a solution for her husband Paul’s parents, Dick and Liddy, who are so tricky to buy for. They say they don’t want any more presents because they already have everything they need. And Dick says he doesn’t need any more gloves because he’s not an octopus. Ditto socks.

They’re already keen recyclers and want to do their bit for the environment in an easy way for people in their eighties.

So how about a Green Cone food waste digester? It takes all food waste, even bones, and no stirring or turning is required. It doesn’t produce compost, but that’s OK; Dick and Liddy will be perfectly happy with the nutritious soil conditioner that will seep from the underground waste basket into their flower beds once worms and microbes have broken down the food scraps.

Dick will like the fact that they’re in control of their own food waste, turning something that harms the planet in landfill to something that heals it by nourishing the soil. Liddy will love the idea that, in their own small way, they’re doing something to save the planet for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The little we can do is a lot – that’s Liddy’s motto.

Composting for a busy brother

For her brother Stephen, who is officially the busiest man on the planet (which he would love to save if he could only get the staff), Rachel plans to get a Green Johanna hot composter. He’s seen Paul and Rachel’s Johanna at work in their garden and has even been known to make himself useful by emptying the kitchen caddy into it. The idea of having a ready supply of his own free compost would definitely appeal too.

Green Johanna Winter Jacket

Worm-farming for children

Stephen’s wife Jill would also like to save the earth; she just doesn’t want it being traipsed through the house on the children’s muddy boots. So Rachel thought a great present for their children, Billie and Ben, would be a wormery. She managed to sell the idea to Stephen by saying it would get the kids interested in eco-science (anything educational always gets his vote), and Jill agreed when she knew the Maze Worm Farm could be kept in the shed. Rachel knows the kids will be fascinated by the process, and if through harvesting their own vermicompost they gain a passion for gardening, well…that’s the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

Rachel suspects it might become her job to teach her niece and nephew how to harvest the compost, but it will be more than worth it to see them giggle when she tells them that this nutritious soil food is essentially the worms’ poo. If you’re under 10 it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

Gifts for the eco-conscious young

What could be better for Rachel and Paul’s son, George, than a Compost Tumbler for the back yard of his student house? The compost it produces will come in handy for all their potted plants and vegetable raised beds, as well as at the  community garden where they help out.  

And a useful stocking filler would be a kitchen cooking oil container. George has taken on the job of storing his household’s used oil in various containers to take to the local recycling centre where it’s collected to be turned into electricity. But this purpose-built 3 litre container with its secure lid will make it so much easier to store and transport the oil.

George has had to stop his housemates pouring their used oil down the sink, which they thought was the right thing to do. In fact, what happens is the oil binds with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers. Everybody thinks their own little bit of oil can’t do any harm but try telling that to the engineers who get the lovely job of breaking down these monster blockages so that the rest of us can flush the toilet confident the waste will just disappear. Sewage backflow anyone?

Every millilitre adds up. Isn’t this at the heart of recycling? Grandma Liddy says: The little we can do is a lot. And she’s right; there are no small acts.

A present for the planet

For Millie, George’s girlfriend, Rachel will get a bokashi bin. Millie showed great interest in Paul and Rachel’s Maze Bokashi Bin when she saw it on their kitchen worktop and was fascinated when Rachel explained the anaerobic process which ferments all food waste, turning it into pre-compost. Well, not every girl wants scented candles…

14 litre Maze Bokashi Bin

Millie will be able to feed her houseplants with the diluted bokashi ‘tea’ fertiliser that drains from the contents of the bokashi bin. The tea can also be used concentrated as organic drain cleaner. Another freebie – what’s not to like? When the food waste has fermented to become pre-compost pulp, she will add it as an accelerator to the Compost Tumbler to break down into compost.

Paul suggested that with all this festive recycling going on, perhaps he could give back to Stephen and Jill the flashing-nose Rudolph jumper they gave him last Christmas?

Rachel said no.

Which creature is most essential for life on earth?

Some years ago my toddler son was out jumping in puddles in his little red wellies, when I noticed some worms. I pointed them out to him and was completely horrified by what he did next – he raised a booted foot in order to smack it down on a worm.

I don’t know why he was so freaked out. Had he never noticed them before? Were they so different to cute animals – without faces or fur – that he found them scary? Obviously I stopped him and told him how wonderful they were.

Children are fascinated by worms but it’s not always a given that they love them. One of our young worm farmer friends, aged 8, said some children in his school were mean to worms when they encountered them.

Worms could do with an image makeover that sees them recognised as eco-superheroes – and now is the time with tomorrow (October 21) being World Earthworm Day.

It’s wonderful that these under-appreciated creatures get their own day, although those of us who compost think every day is earthworm day.  

The day commemorates the publication in October 1881 of Charles Darwin’s book The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Actions of Worms, which changed how worms were viewed.

Of all the creatures that Darwin studied, earthworms were the ones that interested him the most; he spent 40 years studying them.  His studies and experiments attracted the mockery of other scientists because worms were considered pests at the time, but Darwin was convinced there was something special about them. He tested their eyesight and hearing, concluding that they were blind and deaf but could detect vibrations.

Feeding worms showed him they liked celery, cherries and carrots but not sage, mint and thyme. He found that they also eat stones to grind up leaves in their stomachs as they have no teeth.

It became something of an obsession with him. At times he doubted himself and wondered if he was being foolish. People who admired Darwin for his previous work couldn’t believe that he was devoting so much time to such an ‘insignificant’ creature. But Darwin believed that the apparently insignificant can be the foundation of something much greater. As we know, his dedication paid off.
An illustrated children’s book on this subject was published earlier this year – Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular by Polly Owen.  It tells the fascinating story of how Darwin came to conclude that the humble earthworm was the most important species on the planet. For a long time he didn’t find evidence to back up his belief that worms were special, until one day when he discovered their superpower, one that sustains life on earth. We won’t spoil the story!

The Great Green Systems team loves this book and so too do our young worm farming friends, Reggie and Magdalena, shown here reading it.

 Reviews by parents and grandparents who have read it with their children and grandchildren show that adults can learn from it too. Several reviewers say every classroom should have a copy as it’s an ideal subject for primary school science.

As well as introducing children to Darwin and the ways that scientists make deductions, it’s also an inspiring story about the triumph of a person who ignored mockery to persevere with something he believed in.

BBC Wildlife called the book ‘a disarmingly silly read that manages to share cool worm science with a light and easy touch.’

From saint to sinner and back again – worms’ changing reputation


 The fact that worms are vital to soil health – and therefore to us – was well known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Cleopatra decreed that the earthworm should be protected as a sacred animal as it was believed that harming worms or removing them from the land would affect the fertility of the soil. But this wisdom somehow got lost and by Darwin’s time worms had fallen out of favour and were thought to be pests that killed plants, damaged the soil and made a mess of gardens.  


We know that worms aerate and improve the soil, providing nutrients for plants to flourish. Without them the earth would become cold, hard and sterile.

The few centimetres of soil beneath our feet have typically been the least studied place on earth but today scientists all over the world are following Darwin’s example. The simple act of introducing worms to degraded soil in poor regions of the world has been shown to increase plant yields by 280%.

Gardeners know that vermicompost (compost produced by worms) is ‘black gold’ – the best quality soil food.


 Despite our knowledge about how dependent we are on earthworms, the species is in danger from humans. Chemicals sprayed on plants by gardeners and farmers cause them harm and artificial grass is also a danger as they become trapped below it.  

But there’s a lot we can do to help them. In our gardens, parks and allotments we can compost and create log piles. We can also use ecological gardening methods which don’t rely on chemicals.

To learn more about worms and how to help them, join The Earthworm Society –  

Let’s spread the word about worms at home and in schools so that never again will a child try to stamp on one or be mean to one. Like my son, Magdalena used to be scared of worms when her family first got a worm farm but several months later here she is confidently checking they’ve got enough to eat.

It’s appropriate that Darwin should get the last word.

After his long years of study, he concluded: ‘It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly, organised creatures.’


What do you do with used cooking oil?

If you are among the 48 per cent of the population that pours fats down the sink or drain, then please read on.

Even if you flush fats away with hot water and washing up liquid they do not magically disappear. Fairy liquid does not contain fairies. Instead, fats, oils and grease bind with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers.  

Fatbergs are giant congealed grease balls that are formed when fat attaches to sewer walls, slowly accumulating items such as wet wipes and nappies that have no place in sewers. These fat balls get bigger and bigger and set as hard as concrete.

 You may recall the famous Whitechapel fatberg that became news in 2017 – it was longer than two Wembley football pitches and weighed the same as 11 double-decker buses.

And yet thousands of tonnes of oil continue to flow into our sewers each year, causing hundreds of thousands of sewer blockages and sewage flooding to thousands of properties.

The damage costs £90 million in repairs and is totally avoidable.

Unless you are eating your breakfast right now, let’s spare a thought for those who have encountered sewage backflow (3,000 homes a year). Having poo flowing through your house must be an experience you would not forget in a hurry.

It’s not a nice subject to talk about but talk about it we must because education is vital. Many people are not aware that even small amounts of food substances, such as crumbs, butter, margarine, lard, cooking sauce, should never go down the drain. It’s not always obvious – I admit that until researching this article I didn’t know that milk was fatty enough to contribute to a blockage.

Watch what goes down the sink

We also need to spread the word about what a great resource used cooking oil is. Did you know there are facilities at hundreds of household recycling centres across the country for the collection of used cooking oil? The collected oil is refined into a biofuel to create green electricity. Check whether your local site has such a facility and if not ask the local councillors responsible for recycling to look into providing one.  

 Our family has been recycling our used cooking oil this way since 2010 when I read in the local press about a collection facility at my nearest recycling site, but I’m surprised more people don’t know about it.   The oil is collected by vehicles converted to run on the same biofuel and taken to purpose-made generators. Once refined, the biofuel has huge potential – one litre generates enough clean electricity to make 240 cups of tea, while one tonne can provide enough to power the average home for a year.

I used to pour the used oil into various bottles and containers but this was quite messy and I just had to hope the filled containers wouldn’t fall over in the car on the way to the site. Life became easier when we got purpose-built containers that enable us to safely store the oil until the next trip to the recycling centre. Read more

Pouring used cooking oil into the container to store

Carrying oil safely in the car

Adding the oil to the collection facility at the local household recycling centre

To return to fatbergs – which I know you want to – you may already be aware that you should never flush wet wipes, but many people do just that. Most wet wipes are over 90 per cent plastic, which is almost as bad as putting a plastic bag down the loo. Wet wipes account for more than 90 per cent of material in fatbergs and in the UK we use 11 billion of them each year.

As well as wet wipes, putting other items in drains that contain hidden plastics, such as facemasks, nappies, period products and cotton buds, contributes to the millions of pieces of plastic that end up in rivers and seas every day, causing huge damage to wildlife and the environment.  

Other items that get flushed into our sewers include contact lenses, condoms, plasters, bandages, razor blades, disposable gloves and dental floss.

Plastic in our oceans breaks down into microplastics, which poison the ocean ecosystem, and when plastic in the water does eventually break down from exposure to the sun, it releases greenhouse gases in the form of methane and ethylene.

If you are appalled by these facts you might want to join this month’s Unblocktober campaign. This is an annual month-long drive to inform people how they can help to save the sewers and seas.   

A few years ago when I worked in a primary school we enjoyed an educational visit by staff from Yorkshire Water who talked to the children (who would no doubt go on to inform their parents and grandparents) about what can and can’t be flushed. The children were fascinated by an activity which involved adding different types of paper or wipes to water to see which were the best at dissolving efficiently. For a free-flowing sewerage system you obviously want any paper to dissolve quickly. Toilet paper dissolved in seconds, but not facial tissues, and so-called flushable wipes were extremely resistant to disintegration. Many wipes are incorrectly labelled as flushable.

Monster fatbergs are created by millions of people thinking their own little addition of oil or single wet wipe will not make a difference. At the heart of recycling is the opposite belief – that each individual action does matter. It matters a lot.

Unblocktober began in 2019 and by last year 66,000 people had signed up to get informed and change their kitchen and bathroom habits. Let’s hope even more sign up this year.

For information, tips and advice see Unblocktober | A month to Save Our Sewers and Seas


The calm before Storm Daniel hit Greece

Hours after this photo was taken at a wedding on an idyllic Greek beach, with not a cloud in the sky, catastrophe struck.   

The wedding in early September was that of my son and his fiancée. For months we had been joking about our Big Fat Greek Wedding. I even wrote a light-hearted blog about trying to find a sustainable wedding outfit. How shallow that article seems now.

 I will always be grateful that the wedding went beautifully, because just hours after we went to bed that night we were woken by torrential rain, howling gales, thunder and lightning. We thought it was a storm typical of hot countries and that it would soon pass. But it didn’t pass. The next day as the rain and gales continued, we joked that our Big Fat Greek Wedding had narrowly avoided being a Big Wet Greek Wedding.

The storm appeared to abate only to gather reinforcements and return worse than before.  On the second night I stood by the landing window in the early hours – it was impossible to sleep – gazing in fear at nature’s power, wondering if the trees and power lines would hold.  I had been in storms before on holiday but this felt different, it was truly frightening.

The first we knew of the wider situation was when friends and family at home started messaging us asking if we were OK, sending footage of landslides, bridge collapses and severed water supplies. This was the first we knew of the devastation that Storm Daniel had brought. Until then we had been thinking we were unlucky to be experiencing torrential rainfall when the locals told us apologetically that it hadn’t rained since the 10th of June.  Seeing what had befallen others however, we realised we weren’t unlucky at all, we were actually very, very lucky. As our son and daughter-in-law set off on honeymoon, we heard about another couple of newlyweds on honeymoon in Greece who had been swept away in their holiday home by floods.

‘Nothing new’

Most people see the link between devastating weather patterns and global warming. So I was shocked on our return home when talking to someone who expressed the view that there had ‘always been storms and always been forest fires’ so the extreme weather of the summer was nothing new.

 Surely there are very few people now who believe this. The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the storm, which followed a summer of devastating wildfires, as ‘a phenomenon unlike any other we have seen in the past.’

Climate scientists warn that global warming means more water evaporating during summer months, leading to more intense storms. Storm Daniel has been described as the deadliest Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone in recorded history. It was Greece’s costliest recorded storm, wreaking damage estimated at two billion euros. As it spread through Turkey, Bulgaria and Libya, it left many thousands dead, missing and injured, not counting lost livestock and agricultural land.   

It’s yet more evidence of the urgent need for change.  It’s frustrating and depressing when people deny climate change because we all need to act together doing what we can where we can.

The data on climate crisis can be overwhelming to non-scientists, so climatologist Ed Hawkins came up with this graph to portray global warming visually.

The Warming Stripes graph uses a series of coloured stripes arranged chronologically to illustrate long-term temperature trends as a way of showing global warming.  It shows the progression from blue (cooler) to red (warmer) showing the long-term increase of average global temperature from 1850 (left of graphic) to 2018 (right side).

It’s an image of global warming that is hard to argue with.  The worst mistake we can make is to deny the climate crisis is happening. The second worst is to think there’s nothing we can do about it.   

 As the saying goes: It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little.

The little that each of us can do every day adds up to a lot.


Why August is the greenest month – for recycling

Returning from holiday can be hard – and not for the obvious reasons.

 Last year I was fed up when we came back from the Lake District, and it wasn’t just the fact that I could no longer see Lake Windermere from the bedroom window. It was also because I missed the neat tidy air of the holiday cottage we’d stayed in. It was so serene and uncluttered. If I put a book down on the coffee table, I would still be able to find it the next day because it wouldn’t have been submerged under papers, junk mail and post-it notes.

Simplicity, clarity and peace reigned in that little cottage. I felt as though a loudspeaker had been turned off in my head and I could hear properly for the first time. And what I could hear was the voice of Marie Kondo (author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying) saying, ‘Does all that stuff in your house really spark joy?’

Because if it doesn’t, you’re meant to allow it to pass on to spark joy in someone else’s. A great recycling manifesto.

So that’s why I launched the very first Awesome August Clear-Out in our house (a designated annual event).

Like many people we worked from home during the pandemic lockdowns and despite officially going back to the office many moons ago, not everything seems to have made it back there. In many ways the house is still a home-office hybrid. Remember those days when every surface had to multitask? You’d wonder why the hairdryer wasn’t working only to realise you’d picked up the stapler instead. And vice versa. Our house hadn’t fully recovered from that and it needed to because I wanted that holiday cottage vibe. I wanted to open a cupboard and immediately find what I was looking for. I’ll never be the mad-clean type who whisks away an innocent person’s half-drunk cup of tea before they’ve finished, but I do crave clear surfaces and curated shelving. If you’re there already, I salute you. Move along, people, there’s nothing for you to see here.  

For the rest of you, here’s why you too could benefit from an Awesome August Clear-Out.

  • Coming back from holiday usually means you’re motivated by how pleasant it was to live a simpler life for a week or two. This was because you weren’t surrounded by stuff. We can’t all decide to renovate our homes, but we can make it easier to find things.  
  • Thousands of you have August off. School staff, pupils, students – you know who you are. You also know that when the month beginning with S comes around, you won’t have the time or motivation to engage with the great recycling push that comes with Recycle Week (September 19-25). September has the feeling of a fresh new start along with the crisp new notebook and academic diary. It’s also a much better month for resolutions than January so get ready for it now.  
  • The mild weather means you can dump all your stuff outside to sort through it all, like they do in the TV decluttering shows. Obviously you couldn’t do that today because it’s pouring down. And it couldn’t have been yesterday for the same reason. But you know, one day, in theory, that would be nice.

Maybe not the best August day for spreading out on the lawn…

  •  One message that comes through loud and clear from the TV shows is that many parents can’t let go of their children’s childhoods. Guilty as charged. But I’ve now reduced the piles of memorabilia to one box per child. Parents, stop the insanity. I hate to be harsh, but – it’s gone.
  • Children are at home in the holidays to help choose which things they want to keep. They  will be fine with moving on. It’s you who’ll be clinging to a tatty rag, wailing, ‘But we can’t let go of Goosey!’

  • Will you really read those books again? During the first Clear-Out I asked myself that question and realised I would have to live to about 140 to read not only all the books waiting silently to be read, but also those I intended to re-read.  There is only one book I’ve ever read twice – To Kill a Mockingbird. So the evidence points to my not being one of life’s re-readers. Accepting this meant I could let go of dozens of books. Now when I pass my Agatha Christies on to friends and they say they’ll return them, I’ve learnt to say, No, it’s OK, I know who did it.
  • My mother is a great fan of Death Cleaning – this is the Swedish custom of sorting through your lifetime’s possessions before you die, so sparing your loved ones the task later. It’s become her favourite hobby. Most people might visit their 80-something mothers and find them weeding, knitting or watching Bargain Hunt. Mine is to be found among piles of crockery, Tupperware and spare lawn mower parts. She death-cleans with such gusto that I suspect if she’d heard of it years ago she might never have accumulated anything in the first place.  ‘I’m doing this so you don’t have to,’ she says. But recently I’ve noticed what seems to be happening is she’s passing things on to me so I’ll make the decisions about what to keep and discard. What she means is – ‘I’m letting you do this now so you don’t have to later.’ But I don’t mind. I’ve seen friends struggle to cope with these heartbreaking clear-outs after their parents have passed away. Now feels like the better time. My husband used to say things like, ‘We appear to have a large bag full of your mother’s retirement cards in the garage.’ Now he accepts it too. Her stuff has been annexed into our clear-out.  
  • According to Jen Gale in The Sustainable-ish Living Guide, once you’ve gone through the hassle of decluttering you become far more selective about what you bring into the house that might need decluttering again down the line. Once you start this process it becomes easier to live by the ‘Buy Less, Buy Better’ eco mantra.
  • Try this hardcore technique showcased by the Minimalists: Pretend you’re moving and pack up all your stuff into cardboard boxes. Label them so you know what’s in each one and then store them in a room in your house. When you need something over the next month, go and get it out and find a home for it. The theory is that anything left at the end of month isn’t something you use much and can be eradicated from your home.
  • When it’s time to get rid of documents such as bills, receipts, statements and personal letters, it can be a big but satisfying job. Some people burn them after shredding or dunk them in water, but the most eco-friendly method is to compost them. Paper is rich in carbon, which provides balance with materials rich in nitrogen, such as food waste. Avoid composting any paper that might contain high levels of toxic chemicals such as glossy paper. You can cut down on the volume by only tearing out the parts that contain sensitive data. Many letters contain a lot of standard official jargon with no personal references. These parts could simply be added to your recycling bin.

 A compost bin is the safest of all bins for personal papers. As one of our customers said, ‘Good luck to anyone who wants to go rummaging through my Green Johanna!’  

The golden rules of clear-outs

  • The number one rule is this – respect what’s important to other people. For me this means accepting that to certain family members thousands of West Bromwich Albion, Leeds United and St Helens RL programmes have the historic value of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It also means my husband will never again try to throw out the battered flight bag that is priceless to me because my Auntie Margaret bought it for me when I ‘went away’ to university. I actually only crossed the Pennines but I was leaving Yorkshire so…
  • Do not be fooled into thinking this is merely a physical exercise. This is a mental, emotional, and, yes, spiritual (if that’s the way you roll) activity. We are letting go in all senses of the word. If, like me, you are a fan of shows about hoarders, you’ll know that hoarding is thought to be psychological in origin, apparently related to feelings of loss. But don’t let this put you off. Take it slowly and gently, one room or even cupboard at a time and get a sympathetic (but not too sympathetic) friend or relative to help. Plan some treats, like taking a coffee break in a cafe. Go for the easiest room to tackle first – the bathroom.
  • Don’t leave the house while a clear-out is taking place.   My cousin managed to get her husband to clear out their garage. But then she went out, while he got busy taking all the ‘junk’ to the tip, along with a lifetime’s accumulation of precious Christmas decorations.  I know. It makes no sense, what was he thinking? Childhood ends but Christmas is for life.
  • Children are often motivated by the kind idea of giving something away so another child can enjoy it – but don’t force this spirit of philanthropy.  When the great comedian Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage) died earlier this year I read that he blamed his bibliomania on the time he returned from school as a boy to find that his mother had given away all his precious books to the Salvation Army. Her argument was that he had already read them. To compensate for this loss he went on to collect 30,000 books over his lifetime. So encourage but don’t push too hard – it could backfire.  
  • There are wonderful schemes to redistribute books to children who have none of their own.  Abel and Cole’s organic delivery service is running a Give Back with Books scheme working with the Children’s Book Project. They are collecting books as they make deliveries until August 18th.

Give Back With Books

Passing your things on:

  • Charity shops are always crying out for donations of decent quality – that means clean and undamaged goods with no missing parts.

 If we give them things they can’t sell, all we’re doing is passing the work of sorting it out on to someone else. Check with charity shops as to what they accept – most won’t take electrical items as they need PAT testing (Portable Appliance Testing) to ensure they are safe to use. Many shops also won’t accept car seats, bike helmets, medical appliances and safety devices.

  • Check out and

Acknowledge that your family’s needs change as your lives change. The small second-hand dining table that had served my family as our children were growing up was no longer adequate when our sons grew up and got partners, meaning a bigger family table was needed. I put the old one on freegle along with the five small Ikea chairs that had served us for years. The young mum who came for them was overjoyed. I felt delighted, if a little nostalgic for times past, at the thought that her children would now be eating and crafting at that table just as my sons had done. Time to move on.

  • Don’t forget to donate – and shop – at church fairs. There are some interesting and unusual donations depending on the lives lived by parishioners. On our book stall a few years ago an elderly lady asked if we had any Nietzsche. I don’t know what surprised me most – the request or the fact that I was able to say yes, we did indeed have some Nietzsche, and not just one but two! Waterstones, eat your heart out.

Job done. Now when Recycling Week comes round you can sit back and polish your green halo.


Small steps to reach for Net Zero

With the start of Net Zero Week tomorrow (July 1-7), we have compiled a list of small eco-friendly actions that can have a big cumulative impact.

 Net Zero is the world’s answer to stopping climate change through emission reduction and removal – that means reducing greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest amount and removing remaining emissions from the atmosphere. 

Some of the ideas we’ve included are about making your own produce and products, which can be fun,  economical and empowering.  Doing it yourself also raises your awareness of what ingredients are added to the products you buy.

We took inspiration from some of our favourite books and it was a reminder to constantly re-read eco books – there’s so much you forget. We hope some of these ideas give you inspiration too.


Grow it yourself: Food shortages, higher prices and environmental awareness have prompted many people to try growing their own. To make it cost-effective, grow vegetables that have a reliable heavy crop, such as chillis, tomatoes, courgettes, salad leaves, herbs and cut-and-come-again leafy greens such as kale and chard.

At Chelsea Flower Show this year, the garden designed by Mark Gregory used army surplus catering trays attached to a wall to hold pots of chillies, basil and tomatoes lying on drainage granules, so the tray can be watered instead of the pot.

Try homegrown fertilisers. Comfrey is one of the best. Grow Bocking 14, which is sterile and won’t self-seed everywhere.  It can be used to make compost activator, liquid feed and fertilising mulch. Harvest it a couple of times a year, steeping leaves for a couple of weeks in a bucket of water. Nettle leaves are a good source of nitrogen and steeping them is great for feeding leafy plants. Use gloves to pick them. Decant the liquid into plastic bottles for storage and put the decomposing leaves in the compost bin. Dilute one part of the liquid to ten parts water.

Troublesome weeds can be controlled quickly without weed killers or path clearing products – pour over boiling water straight from the kettle followed immediately by a light sprinkling of table salt.


Many are the great tips to be found in the books and Instagram of eco-influencer Nancy Birtwhistle (Green Living Made Easy) but some of the best are her recipes for cleaning creams.

Cream Cleaner

200g bicarbonate of soda

70ml vegetable glycerine

20ml eco-friendly washing-up liquid

A few drops of essential oil for perfume – optional

500 ml jar or tub

Place all ingredients into the container, stir to a thick smooth paste and it’s ready to use.

Pure Magic  (kills germs, destroys limescale and smells fresh)

200g citric acid

150ml just-boiled water

20ml eco-friendly washing-up liquid

10 drops organic tea tree oil or other scent of choice.

400ml spray bottle

Place citric acid crystals in a heatproof jug and add the water. Stir until the liquid is clear and the crystals have dissolved, then simply add the eco-friendly washing-up liquid and tea tree oil and mix well using a small whisk. Leave the jug to cool completely, uncovered, for a few hours to prevent crystallization then pour into a spray bottle and it’s ready to use.

  • If you would rather buy than make your own, look to the Bide brand. The cleaning products (laundry powder, washing up liquid, toilet fresheners and dishwasher powder) are zero-waste, vegan, non-toxic and home compostable. They are hand-made at kitchen tables throughout the UK by a network of home workers from historically marginalised groups, such as ex-offenders, refugees, single mothers.  The business has just switched to manufacturing on demand using a pre-order system with delivery times of up to three weeks. Products can be bought in bulk. Fans who love the company’s ethos as well as the quality of the products will no doubt be happy to pre-order and wait a little longer.
  • In her book The Miracle of Vinegar, cleaning expert Aggie MacKenzie lists the many uses of this natural wonder – from cleaning yellow armpit stains in shirts and freshening baby clothes to keeping loo limescale at bay.
  • Use an EcoEgg for laundry instead of chemical detergents, helping to save tonnes of washing detergent from polluting water systems every year. The washing beads inside the egg last for 70 washes until you need to get refills.
  • Wash clothes only when needed – fluff in the washing machine is your clothes getting worn out as you clean them.

Eco-author Jen Gale points out in her book The Sustainable (ish) Living Guide that in the UK we recycle less than 50 per cent of our waste and lots of reusable items are discarded every day. So reduce what you buy and reduce what’s already there. Decluttering can feel overwhelming but here’s a way to turn it into a game that even children could get involved with. Not only are you freeing up space in your own home but you’re passing things on to other people that they might need or would love. The game is recommended by the minimalist gurus, the Minimalists. Its suitability depends on how crammed your house is.

The Mins Game

Pick a month and on day 1 you get rid of one thing and on day 2 two things and so on until you’re getting rid of 30 things on day 30. By the end of the month you will have cleared your home of 465 items. One suggestion is to reverse this and do 30 items on day 1 when you’re feeling most motivated.


  •  If you’re turning on your oven, maximise its shelf space. With a bit of planning you can roast a tray of fruit as a cake cooks. Set time aside to cook a few meals with similar base ingredients, using all the shelves.
  • Use up limp veg in soup. You can also chop up wilting veg and add them to a bag in the freezer labelled ‘soup’. Then with the addition of a stock cube and a bag of lentils you have a dish that is cheap, easy and healthy.
  • A well-stocked freezer means there’s always a meal on hand. Divide dishes into different portion sizes to minimise waste and freeze things flat to maximise space.
  • Bigger and better value bags are often to be found at international grocers or the international aisle in supermarkets.
  • Can you get more tea from your teabag if you make it in a teapot?  We read recently that one teabag can make four cups.  This may need putting to the test in the GGS office.
  • Look up home hacks by the media star Armen Adamjam, such as the tip that made him famous on social media – how to grow an onion.  You can actually place the chopped-off white ends of a spring onion into a cup filled with water and regrow them. 
  • Another Adamjam tip to regrow a pineapple: Twist off the top from a pineapple then peel off the bottom four layers of leaves. Leave the top to dry out for two days. Place over a glass of water somewhere well-lit and away from direct sunlight – only submerge the leaf-free part in the water. When roots have grown, get a pot with soil in it. Make a hole in the middle and plant the top. Water it from above only.
  • Making your own butter is satisfying and saves pounds. A friend found this tip on Instagram and inspired me to try it – £1 of whipping cream can make £7-worth of butter. Whisk the whipping cream until you get a separated buttermilk liquid and butter mixture.  Add salt or other flavouring if desired. The butter lasts for a week in the fridge or you can freeze it and get small amounts out as needed. Next time I try this I will use a large bowl so I don’t end up splattering myself in the process…
  • Another friend has inspired me to make my own yogurt after giving me her tasty homemade version made from milk and a pot of live yogurt cooked in a slow cooker wrapped in a damp towel.
  • In his book How Bad are Bananas? Mike Berners-Lee recommends eating less meat, especially beef and lamb.  If you do buy them, try to ensure they are from mainly grass-fed animals that are not on deforested land or land that should be used for crops (good options would be British hill sheep and cows).
  • Buy only what you know you can eat. Give away food before it goes to waste. Check what needs eating before you go to the shops.


  • Buy sustainably – Clothing that I’ve bought from Thought and Traidcraft (now called Transform Trade) are still going strong years later. They wash and wear well and often prompt compliments.
  • Textiles made from plastic bottles are used to make Weaver Green’s outdoor rugs, throws and cushions. These can be left outside, don’t fade or rot and can go in the washing machine.  Wrapping up in a cosy outdoor blanket can also mean an extra hour or two in the garden if the evening gets cool. The company’s founders drew inspiration for the fabric when they saw a fisherman in Turkey unravel discarded plastic bottles with a knife and then heat bond it to form a rope.
  • Patagonia has a target to use only recycled and renewable materials by 2025. 
  • Swimwear made from discarded fishing nets and other plastic fished from the sea is the brainchild of the sustainable clothing brand Stay Wild Swim.
  • The UpCircle Beauty company uses used coffee grounds as raw materials. Instead of ending up in landfill, discarded coffee grounds are turned into vegan-friendly cosmetics such as scrubs, cleansers, creams and moisturisers. The company get the coffee grounds free from more than 100 cafes. The cafes also save on disposal. Win-win.
  • FoodCircle Supermarket is an online retailer selling energy bars, healthy snacks and other foods that haven’t made it onto shop shelves for various reasons – perhaps because stock has been overproduced by the manufacturer or has short shelf life or minor defects.  Products are sold at discounts of up to 50 per cent. In its first two years the company had saved 500,000 food items from landfill.
  • I had never heard of visible mending until I read Jen Gale’s book. This is a form of repair – or ‘codesign’ – that emerged in the early 2010s in response to issues of overproduction, pollution and worker insecurity in the mainstream fashion industry. The philosophy is that clothing is customizable, not disposable. This is a community that wears their mend with pride. See the website and Instagram. The examples shown look like works of art.

As compost-heads, we can’t end without encouraging you to encourage everyone you know to compost. Turning your food and garden waste into compost to rebuild soil is a no-brainer. This is even more important if your local council is one of the 50 per cent in England who have not yet implemented a separate food waste collection scheme, meaning tonnes of food scraps are still going to landfill or incineration.

Let’s spread the word, spread the love and spread the compost!


Sustainable dressing for a big fat Greek wedding

When my son and his girlfriend announced they were getting married, it didn’t take long for idle speculation about what I would wear to become a problem that did my head in.

I don’t buy that many new clothes these days and try to make sustainable choices when I do.

According to consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, clothing production has at least doubled since 2000, while the average garment is kept for half as long.

 I ran through a sustainable hierarchy for an outfit:

  • Wear something I already have
  • Borrow
  • Rent
  • Buy new from an ethical company.

I’ve read that Greta Thunberg never buys new clothes, borrowing instead from friends for special events. This option works if you’re young, slim and pretty, but most of us have more complex needs.

So began my mission to find a big fat green Greek wedding outfit.

The first option was out because I don’t already own an outfit that’s special enough for a wedding. I know it might surprise some readers to learn that, as someone who writes about compost, I don’t have a bulging wardrobe of glamorous gowns for glitzy red-carpet events. (Perhaps the composting world is indeed full of such events but I just don’t get invited to them.)

My dressiest dress is black so that’s not an option.  Yes, I know that black may well be a very modern stylish choice in some circles, but there is a complication here in that the bride is Greek and the wedding will take place in her home village. I don’t yet know her family and any cultural or religious traditions that may need to be taken into consideration. So I’m wary of committing some cross-cultural faux pas that could possibly echo down the ages, with me being forever referred to as ‘her who wore black to her son’s wedding.’

I looked into renting and also considered my favourite sustainable retailers. I sent off for a beautiful floaty dress from one company but returned it when my husband said I looked like I was wearing a nightie.

Being the mother of the groom, or MOG to use the official industry term (mother of the bride being the MOB), is obviously a big deal. And I can’t be the only MOG/MOB who feels pressured into becoming someone I’m not. (At this point, let me say that if you get irritated by first-world problems you should stop reading now, if you haven’t already.)

In pursuit of an outfit that ticked a long list of boxes, I must have looked at hundreds of outfits over several months. None of them were right. I thought of a friend who spends her life in trousers and loafers but went to her daughter’s wedding in a stiff dress-suit and heels that made her look and feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want that. But there is a kind of blackmail attached to weddings – you have to look as though you’ve made a big effort in order to show that you love the couple. Don’t ask me how it works. But it’s there, this equation between bling and love. Is it the class system, the fashion industry, media pressure? I don’t know. But it’s there, this pressure to adopt a wedding uniform and leave your personality at the door. For some reason we feel funnelled into becoming Joan Collins when we might be more Whoopi Goldberg.

From my experience I can report that most designers assume you have the tall, super-slender figure of the Princess of Wales and that you require the kind of stately dress-coats favoured by members of the royal family at coronations.  

As the days became weeks, I started to lose all perspective and reason – it was like getting the new kitchen all over again.  A sign of how desperate I became is that I asked my husband’s opinion. This is something I usually avoid because I know what I will get. He will say, ‘What are you asking me for? I’m not an expert.’ He will then name an expert in the said field to emphasise just how far away from that person he is and therefore how spectacularly unqualified to offer an opinion.  Depending on the topic in question, I will be informed that he is not David Hockney, Gordon Ramsay, Jeremy Clarkson or Monty Don. In this particular case I was told he is not Gok Wan.

And yet, despite very obviously not being Gok Wan, he managed to weigh in with what sounded suspiciously like some very opinionated opinions.  Apart from the ‘nightie’, other dresses were dismissed as: too boring, too loud, too much, too frumpy and ‘something my nan would have worn’.  Inevitably, when I questioned his verdicts, he complained that he couldn’t win; he got in trouble for not giving an opinion and in trouble if he did.

‘I don’t know why you’re even asking me,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what you want to look like.’ This must be, in a very crowded field, one of the most ridiculous things my husband has ever said.  What I want to look like? I’m going to my son’s wedding, I want to look nice.  I’m not going to a fancy dress party where I might be wanting to look like, say, Elvis Presley, or a hobbit.

The trouble was that I was trying to compensate for everything I’m not – young, svelte, tall, tanned, stable in high heels – and that’s before I even begin to consider how my delicate Anglo-Irish constitution will cope with Greece in high summer. Since I don’t know my daughter-in-law’s family, I’m obviously anxious to make a good impression, and as a fairly casual person I don’t want to look as though I haven’t dressed up because that might look as though I don’t care about the wedding when the truth is I care too much.  But does making an effort mean I have to be got up like Hyacinth Bucket at a Buckingham Palace garden party?

 I read an article that said the essence of style is to simply be yourself. Stylish people always say this, of course, and it’s alright for them because who they are is a person who is stylish. I asked myself the question: if I went to this wedding as ‘me’ what would that look like?

Hmmm …..difficult to know the answer to that question when you’re a woman of a certain age with  grown-up kids. I thought back to past versions of me. As a child I liked dressing up; my style was very much ‘more is more’.  I loved adding stuff to my hair, for example. There are photos of me aged three or four going about my business with flowers, scarves, jewellery and any hat I could find plonked on my head. My parents obviously thought it was hilarious, hence the photos. As a teenager in the punk era, my friends and I got clothes from Oxfam and customised them. Memories came flooding back. I remembered buying a man’s beige bomber jacket and painting a portrait of Johnny Rotten on the back. I paired my dad’s brown and orange striped dressing gown with the belt from my younger brother’s cowboy outfit. I tied my mother’s necklaces round my legs in what I hoped mirrored bondage fashion, but had to remove them so blood could continue to circulate round my body. An old school blazer got decorated with dozens of cheap chains sewn across the front. And many, many accessories went in my gelled-up hair.  The vibe at the time was very much about making outfits from whatever you could find and not being told how to dress or be. Obviously, this could not be allowed to continue because there was no profit in it, so like everything else this free spirit was eventually crowded out by conformity and commodification.

I’m not about to hit Oxfam looking for leopardprint and raid my sewing box for safety pins, but I did wonder where that girl had gone. The many parallels with Shirley Valentine did not escape me. Perhaps I might rediscover the real me in Thessaloniki and never come back to Leeds?  

In the middle of this identity crisis, my son sent me a text informing me that as the MOG I would be  required to do a dance at the wedding – a dance of transition – with the bride. This would not be a problem, according to my son, as he would send me a video so I could practice.   

So now, in addition to the cascade of concerns my outfit had to address (including, in no particular order:  middle-aged spread, cross-cultural anxiety, heatstroke, sustainability, wobbly ankles, Greek Orthodox etiquette, and bingo wings) I also had to factor in Zorba’s Dance.  

Potential dance by the Mother of the Groom?

My husband stepped in to remind me what really mattered – that our son is marrying a wonderful girl we’re delighted to welcome into our family. We’re going to love the wedding and getting to know our new extended Greek family. It’s all about joy. Everything else is small stuff.

 I know, I know….but can’t I have the joy and something that covers bingo wings?

In the end I bought new – but there is a sustainable angle. It’s something I will wear and wear and wear – thanks to a wonderful, local dressmakers I discovered (big shout-out to Danielle McGilloway of Roberttown). The outfit was a navy chiffon layered dress. I was very happy with it (bingo wings sorted, since you ask) but it bothered me that I wouldn’t wear it often because I much prefer trousers. Getting the dress shortened into a long top meant I could wear it with palazzo pants, so it’s now an outfit I will wear forever. I plan to get other clothes altered now I’ve realised that if something’s not quite right it can be very cheaply perfected. Women often say they have nothing to wear when their wardrobes are bursting. Perhaps it’s because a lot of those clothes don’t fit properly. Using a dressmaker did not even enter my head at the start of my search but now it’s right up there on my list of sustainable living options.

Back to the wedding – like the little girl I once was, I’ll be rocking a hot pink, twisted silk headband from Etsy and I’m planning to make my own clutch bag out of a navy furry beret and a yellow plastic bangle, both from charity shops. I might be a MOG but I can also be me.  

When did wedding dressing get so out of hand?    

For my wedding in the 90s, both my mother and mother-in-law wore beautiful dress-suits and hats that they rarely wore again, if ever. What a waste, in all senses of the word.  I doubt that for their own weddings in the early 60s their mothers had bought brand new outfits. And I remember my grandma saying that for her wedding in 1934 she chose a crepe dress that she later dyed forest green and wore many times after the wedding.

Let’s resist the pressure that leads to fast fashion and landfill.   

So now, with my outfit sorted – big fat Greek wedding here we come!


Are you a creative composter? Try this competition

As this week is International Compost Awareness Week, anyone with a creative streak and passion for composting should think about entering the event’s video and poster competitions.

There are annual contests to find an inspiring video (open to youngsters aged 10 – 13) and a poster (open to anyone 14 or older) to promote the event. The aim is to find fun and educational ways to promote compost use and organics recycling.

The contests run every year from September 1st to November 1st so there’s still plenty of time to think about designing an entry to promote the event next year.

The winner of the video contest this year is 11-year-old Magna Iacomella Paz from Argentina.

She says: ‘I participated because I realised that composting is something interesting.

‘I had not realised that throughout my life I have been composting a lot because since I was a little girl I have been separating waste. My dad talks to me a lot about compost and he tells me that when he was little he didn’t separate the organics or prepare the compost.

‘It seems crazy to me because then fruits and vegetables were less healthy. I think it’s weird to throw a banana peel in the trash.

‘The concept of my video is that composting is a circular thing. It starts and if you continue it never ends.’

Magna received help for her fabulous 30-second video from an 11-year-old friend and her little sister, aged 6.

This year’s poster winner is Jun Qi Tan, from Singapore, who is an illustrator with a passion for regenerative gardening and composting. She tends her family’s garden but also helps out at community ones, as well as donating surplus produce to her local community when she is able.

Through her art she hopes to raise awareness of the integral role that soil and compost play in healthy food systems and a healthy planet.

 The beautiful plant at the heart of Jun’s poster is the ancient grain amaranth, commonly grown in Southeast Asia.

The theme of this year’s event is For Healthier Soil, Healthier Food…Compost! The intention is to show how compost can play a role in feeding the world. By recycling organics into compost and using it on farmlands, healthier soil is created that produces healthier food and higher yields. Compost also reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticides, improves water quality and conserves water, as well as storing carbon in soil – helping to mitigate climate change.

Saving the earth and feeding its people – compost truly has superpowers!

 Jun and Magna’s winning contributions will be enjoyed by a huge international audience this week. Perhaps next year that could be you?

 For details see ICAW Poster Contest (

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Why gardening’s a hobby fit for a king

Those of us well acquainted with the King’s years as the Prince of Wales know he is a committed environmentalist whose ideas were often ahead of his time.  

Some commentators have questioned whether he will now refrain from speaking out on the subject as the monarch is meant to steer away from political issues, but others have argued that this isn’t politics, it’s the future of humanity.

It’s interesting to consider how far from the mainstream the King’s ideas once were.    

The Observer Magazine recently recalled an edition of the same magazine from July 1965 which reported on how gardening had become a chemically-enhanced big business. Science was seen to have taken the place of old-fashioned expertise with a huge increase in the numbers of chemical fertilisers and products available to tackle pests. The report even suggested that frozen foods were making vegetable gardens redundant.

This was the background to the then Prince Charles making his first big speech in 1970, aged 22, when he talked about the dangers posed by pollution and indestructible plastic containers. Many of his speeches focused on topics that were not everyday concerns at the time and he had to put up with mockery from the media as a result.

 For years the tabloid press mocked his interests as ‘fringe’ and ‘loony’ and in 1986 he was ridiculed for telling a magazine journalist that he talked to his plants. Issues that he spoke out about, such as organic farming, recycling, food production and waste management, are now considered essential to the future of the planet. We’re all ‘loonies’ now.

Damage to the soil

The King has called his work on the gardens and organic farm at Highgrove House, his Gloucestershire home, ‘one very small attempt to heal the appalling short-sighted damage done to the soil, the landscape and our souls’ by our contemporary way of life.

Highgrove has a reed bed sewer, extensive composting systems, biomass and pump-fed heating and partial solar-powered lighting. The farm was converted to organic practices more than 30 years ago and the King’s Aston Martin DB6, which is more than 50 years old, was converted to run on out-of-date English white wine and cheese whey.

At the COP26 climate summit in 2021 he urged world leaders to redouble their efforts to confront global warming saying, ‘Time has quite literally run out.’

He also said: ‘One of the things that motivated me more than anything else is that I didn’t want to be accused by my grandchildren or children of not doing the things that needed doing at the time.’

It’s to be hoped that King Charles III still carves out time for his gardening passion as the benefits are remarkable.

A life-improving hobby  

Around 40 per cent of the UK population describe themselves as active in gardening – that means many more of us could reap the benefits of this life-improving hobby.

Many studies have proven that gardening is good for your mental and physical health, offering both immediate and long-term benefits.  

Gardening has been shown to:

  • reduce stress
  • increase life satisfaction
  • promote relationships in families and communities

Therapeutic effects have also been seen, alongside other treatments, in cases of depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia.

Scientists have found that soil contains a natural anti-depressant which stimulates the production of serotonin. Gardeners inhale the bacteria, mycobacterium vaccae, and have contact with it when touching soil. No wonder so many people call the garden their happy place.

The physical activity involved in planting, weeding, digging, raking and mowing means keen gardeners can expend the same amount of energy as running or going to the gym.

 Even small doses such as five minutes of nature is considered to improve self-esteem and mood. Simply contemplating nature helps to rest and recharge our brains.

In children and adolescents gardening has been shown to:

  • improve educational performance
  • create a sense of achievement and empowerment in children who struggle academically
  • provide quiet time for reflection
  • reduce stress and anger

In older people, gardening can help to:

  • promote bone health
  • reduce falls
  • improve general wellbeing
  • delay dementia symptoms

Those new to gardening can start small, growing in little pots or tin cans. Salad greens such as lettuce, rocket and chard can be grown in small spaces.

Take inspiration from people who have proven that gardens can be everywhere – by the front door, on steps, on a balcony and in community spaces. Horticulturalist Alys Fowler even grew plants on her apartment fire escape in New York and joined a gardening community which reused discarded objects found in the city’s streets.

People who don’t have a garden of their own can volunteer in community gardens. There are also schemes where people with the gardening space but no time or inclination can make their gardens available to those with the passion but no plot.  Contact your local authority or check online for details.

Spare Parts