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 freecycle.org and ilovefreegle.org.

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 visiblemending.org 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!


A journey to becoming a green gardener

With compost again in the spotlight (Compost Week UK runs from March 13-19) it’s timely that Nancy Birtwhistle’s green gardening book has just been published.

Nancy first came to national attention when she won The Great British Bake-Off in 2014 and she is now a best-selling author on green issues.

She’s also an inspiration to anyone wanting to live a more sustainable life; the tips in her books and on her Instagram feed are simple but effective, with something for everyone.

We had pre-ordered a copy of her latest book, The Green Gardening Handbook, and we’ve been busy this week reading and learning.

Here’s how Nancy sums up her life’s green journey:

‘Several years ago I began my green journey and this way of thinking has permeated every part of my life, from the way I clean my house to the way I resist single-use items, recycle and upcycle where possible, am mindful about the use of valuable energy and utilities, and also how I have been able to apply this way of thinking to my garden. I became more informed through researching and reading while considering the plight of our natural world and am now converted to methods that, once the penny drops, actually make utter and complete sense, and are logical and sensible. Once we learn how to work with Mother Nature and understand how the seasons work, how plants behave and how we can harness the wonder of it all, the reliance on any destructive chemical, synthetic or harmful methods for home growing are utterly superfluous.’  

 She also talks about her respect for the tiny creatures that make this soil food: ‘I found that once I embraced a greener approach to living – in the garden and in relation to my food – I was ever more appreciative and amazed by the wonder of nature, especially the creepy crawlies, and because of this will continue to do my very best to cherish and preserve it wherever and whenever I can.’

Summing up how all compost enthusiasts feel, she says, ‘I take huge satisfaction each time I add something to my compost bin, knowing that it is one less item going to landfill.’

We’re still reading the book – and noting down our favourite tips – but here are a few quick points Nancy makes about her journey in composting.

  • Finding the traditional Browns and Greens compost terminology confusing, because not all green items are Greens (i.e. nitrogen-rich) and not all brown items are Browns (i.e. carbon-rich), Nancy prefers to think in terms of Wet and Dry contents. (Michael Kennard, of Compost Club, makes the same point in his booklet Hot Compost – The Basics. He encourages beginners to think in terms of nitrogen and carbon content to help get the ratios right.)
  • When gardening, use biodegradable jute twine and wooden plant labels so that any oddments that fail to be removed before composting will decompose along with everything else.
  • Invest a few pounds in a compost thermometer – it will keep you entertained for hours and is a great talking point with enthusiastic gardening friends.
  • Use your compost to fill planters, top dress rose bushes and fruit trees, lay a good thick layer over veggie plots in the autumn and early winter and the worms will do the job of taking it below the surface – no need for digging it in.
  • Make your own compost scoop out of a plastic milk container:  Cut the bottle in half – the top half to be used as a compost scoop or planting funnel and the bottom half to be used as a simple seed pot or planter. Make a starting hole in the centre of the bottle using a hot skewer and use this as an entry hole for the scissors, making it possible to make a neat cut. To use one half as a compost scoop – leave the cap in place and use the handle with the bottle neck in the upside-down position to scoop your compost to take to your pots or tubs. With a scoop there is less spillage than using your hands or a trowel.
  • If you buy compost make sure it is a peat-free variety – peatlands are hugely important for plants, wildlife and humanity. They also store vast amounts of carbon which must be kept in the ground to avoid contributing further to climate change.

(Sales of peat to amateur gardeners in England will be banned by 2024.)

Spare Parts