Eco tips for greener, cheaper living

If you’re doing as much as you can to live a greener life and you’re not acquainted with Nancy Birtwhistle, that’s something you need to remedy ASAP.

And if you’re thinking that you don’t have the means to follow fancy sustainable lifestyle tips, then that’s yet another reason to follow Nancy B. The best-selling author and influencer doesn’t push any products; on the contrary she shows you how to save money by cutting back on stuff, chemicals and energy costs by making or doing it yourself – and yes, that extends to making her own compost pile.

 Because Nancy never recommends products, followers have overwhelmed her with questions about where to get some of the basic items she uses, especially for home-made cleaning creams and sprays. To help out, she invited followers to nominate their favourite eco-suppliers and a list of these is pinned to the top of her Instagram account.

We’ve been following Nancy’s advice for nearly two years, long before she had the world-wide 594,000 followers she has today.  We make up her cleaning spray recipes instead of buying ones that are damaging to the environment and we’re glad to see she now appears regularly on BBC’s Morning Live.

 I introduced my Greek daughter-in-law to Nancy and she’s a fan now too. Having grown up during Greece’s financial crisis, my daughter-in-law remembers her family making a little go a long way. This included growing their own food and making their own olive oil. She’s also passionate about recycling, having seen at first hand the devastation that climate change is wreaking on her country with increasing forest fires, heatwaves and floods.

Back to Nancy – her latest book, The Green Budget Guide, was published last month and it’s my new bedtime reading. I’m gripped; it’s not so much a Whodunnit as a Howdunnit.

For example, for a long time I’ve wanted to learn how to darn socks but just never got round to finding out. This is something I remember my grandma doing when I was a child if she spotted my big toe poking out through a sock.  The sock would be whisked away and returned with beautiful, neat darning that lasted forever.  How incredibly wasteful to throw a pair of socks away just for one hole. Well now I know what to do, thanks to a snippet in Nancy’s book.

Advice is included on how to rescue items instead of throwing them away, make flexi-recipes, create  your own gifts, freeze fruit and veg so it doesn’t clump into a solid block, make odour neutraliser for second-hand clothes and furniture, use up expired spices and ‘mop up’ shards of broken glass using slices of bread.… the list is endless.  

As food waste is a subject close to this blog’s heart, we thought we’d share a section from the book on this topic.

Do you know what is the single most wasted food in the UK?

Bread. Around 20 million slices a day get binned.

Let’s change this. If you have a small household, it’s a good idea when you buy a loaf, to put half in the freezer. The second half can be thawed in less than an hour. If you live alone, freeze the whole loaf and take slices as required. Frozen slices of bread can easily be separated from the loaf using the blade of a round-ended knife.

The plastic wrapping that contains shop-bought loaves encourages mould because the bread’s moisture as it evaporates has nowhere to go. Nancy remembers that when she was a child, bread was sold in waxed paper. She has come up with her own method of making reusable, washable, long-lasting cotton bags that are coated in beeswax. These remain breathable and thanks to the anti-bacterial qualities of beeswax also resist mould.  Her recipe uses thin cotton fabric, greaseproof paper, pellets of beeswax and an iron to melt the wax.

Because processed white sliced bread in plastic wrapping turns mouldy before it goes stale, keep an eye on it and get to it before mould appears so you can upcycle it with the following tips:  

  • Freeze breadcrumbs – Cut into 2.5cm chunks then blitz in the bowl of a food processor using the blade attachment. The breadcrumbs in this state will freeze perfectly so simply place in a bag or box and use them from frozen. Home-made bread tends to go stale and hard before it goes mouldy and can be grated if you don’t have a food processor.
  • Instant thickener – Adding dry flour or cornflour to a hot casserole or sauce will create lumps so always mix the flour to a paste with a little cold water first before stirring through. Alternatively use breadcrumbs as a last-minute speedy thickener. Stir in a tablespoon at a time to quickly thicken without fear of lumps.
  • Instant crunch – heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan then sprinkle over a cup of fresh breadcrumbs, a sprinkle of dried garlic and dried herbs and fry until crisp and golden. This makes a tasty instant crunch to top off a shepherd’s pie, fish pie, pasta bake or salad.
  • Shelf breadcrumbs – If you’re stuck for freezer space you can dry your breadcrumbs: spread the fresh breadcrumbs on a baking tray in a thin layer and place in the oven to dry out. If the oven has been on for something else, pop in the tray of breadcrumbs when you have finished cooking and before the oven cools down. The breadcrumbs once dried, will feel coarse and will not stick to the hands. For a very fine crumb, blitz again in a blender once dried. Once cool, the breadcrumbs can be stored in a jar in a cupboard indefinitely – perfect for coating Scotch eggs, fish cakes, fish fingers, chicken and vegetables.

Check out Nancy’s account and books – you’ll make small changes to the way you live, and those changes will make a big difference.

Julie

Golden rules for having a clear-out

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 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). I chose August because I’d just come back from holiday but of course it can be any time. Any school holiday is good if you have children at home.

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 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.  
  • The summer is a good time if you are among the thousands who have a long holiday. School staff, pupils, students – you know who you are. The mild weather means you can dump all your stuff outside to sort through it all, like they do in the TV decluttering shows.
  •  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 often 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 runs a Give Back with Books scheme working with the Children’s Book Project.

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.

Julie

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.)

Small steps to reach for Net Zero

With Net Zero Week coming up, 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.

GARDEN

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.

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.

HOME

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.

KITCHEN

  •  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.

SHOP:

  • 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.
  • COMPOST!

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!

Julie

Resolutions to do better this year

Putting the decorations away after Christmas is a good time to think about what can be done better next time around.      

No, I’m not recommending that you hit the sales for presents and stash them at the top of the wardrobe. We can’t all be like my mother-in-law.  

 I’m thinking more about making resolutions to do better waste-wise so that the festive fails of Christmas Just Past will be this year’s gains in reducing the family seasonal carbon footprint.

 Every year I try to make little improvements and write my ideas down while they’re fresh in my mind. Then I put this list on top of the decorations box for the new me to find in December. Those of a certain age might remember the advert that coined the phrase Vorsprung Durch Technik (Progress Through Technology). I like to think of my New Year’s resolutions as Vorsprung Durch List-making.

 You may make resolutions now but, believe me, you will forget if you don’t write them down.

Top tips from my list:

  • Write a memo to self – If you’re the sort of person who buys presents early, remind yourself where they’re stored and who they’re for. If not, you may not remember where you put Auntie Ethel’s present and who you bought the novelty gorilla slippers for, apart from the fact that it wasn’t Auntie Ethel. They’re not her size.
  • Ditch the selections – Don’t buy selections of food items if your family won’t eat everything in them. For us, in the dips selection, it’s thousand island dressing; in the cheese selection, it’s anything smoked; in the cheese biscuit selection, it’s the plain crackers. So only buy the cheese, crackers, dips etc that your family love. This leads me into a great idea from my sister-in-law.
  • DIY hampers – Get a box, add a bit of straw, then fill with items you know the person loves – drinks, preserves, pickles, biscuits, tea bags, chocolates etc. You can buy a box, as my sister-in-law did, but you could also just use a shoe box, or any box and decorate it. This would be a great idea for children to make for relatives and it could be as cheap or expensive as you like. It would also work for birthdays or Mother’s Day gifts.

Next year – make a DIY hamper

  • Stop roasting the same old chestnuts – Ah Christmas…it must provide enough material to keep therapists busy all year. It means different things to different people; the pull of obscure childhood memories leads us into bizarre behaviour. We can see everybody else’s craziness, of course, just not our own. What, I wonder, drives my mother every year to make me batches of mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake when I hate them, and have always hated them? I’m not going to start eating them just because she keeps making them. Either I disappoint her with the truth (again) or end up with a lot of waste if I can’t palm them off onto someone else. She seems to need to fill her kitchen with the smell of all those Christmas spices. Is it a subliminal desire to become Mrs Cratchit and feed up Tiny Tim? Who knows, but next year I will get in early and find some other grateful mouths for her to feed.
  • Make a request – None of us want to become the kind of person that people cross the street to avoid for fear of getting an eco-lecture, but surely we can ask those closest to us to buy eco-friendly Christmas cards for us and to wrap our present in recyclable paper, even if it’s as simple as avoiding glitter, foil, plastic etc?
  • Do advance research – Check out toy rental companies, such as Whirli, and companies that rent Christmas trees. If you leave it too late you’ll probably forget your good intentions.
  • Avoid Oops, I Did it Again syndrome – Don’t overcook. I read an article that said no one needs more than two side dishes, three if you must.  Regular readers (Happy New Year to you both!) might remember my plan to hold a family vote to limit my Christmas Day veg dishes to three. I texted my three sons to ask for their choices. Was the ensuing chaos an attempt by various parties to derail the democratic process to ensure they got mushy peas? I have 11 months to sort this out for next Christmas. Don’t ask how many dishes there were on the big day, it’s embarrassing.
  • Have a Christmas Dinner debrief (with yourself, you don’t want this to get weird) – I resolve next year not to simply plough ahead thinking of my guests as a faceless group but to see them as individuals, i.e.  how many vegetarians, how many 90-year-olds with tiny appetites, how many dietary requirements etc. I also resolve to believe my guests, even those I gave birth to, when they say they hate something. Broccoli was the biggest waste item – two of my sons say they hate it, and have always hated it, and will not start eating it just because I keep cooking it. (Uh-oh, this sounds familiar…)
  • Keep successful leftover recipes – we had great success withCheesy Sprout Bake, Boxing Day Burritos, Sprout Leaf Bhajis and Leftover Veg Fritters – the fritters went down especially well but are still not an excuse to cook too much broccoli.
  • Make the break – If you’d like to suggest that perhaps you could stop buying a present for your 35-year-old nephew who’s an investment banker, now is the time. If he really wants a Lynx gift set, he can surely buy it himself.
  • Unwanted gifts – If you don’t have an arrangement with everybody to keep receipts, put these gifts to one side so they can be kept pristine to be donated to the next fundraiser or a charity shop. If you plan to regift, attach a note saying who gave them to you to avoid embarrassment. Excess gifts of chocolates and biscuits can go to the foodbank. Don’t save them; you’ll forget where you put them until they’re out of date.  
  • Follow the recipe – I made the best-ever chocolate log thanks to Nancy Birtwhistle’s recipe – fruit puree filling in the Swiss roll adds the perfect necessary tartness. But next time I will follow the recipe faithfully. If Nancy says 200g of chocolate, she means 200g of chocolate. Don’t think you know better and that sounds a bit stingy so bang in another 100g.  Turns out there is such a thing as too much chocolate. Always remember, Nancy knows best – and not just at Christmas.  

Best-ever chocolate log – well, the remains of it after dinner.

Julie

How to compost Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly glad you’ve got a composter.

Any unused food waste will now be breaking down in the compost bin along with suitable wrapping paper, and after the New Year you’ll have Christmas cards and perhaps a tree to recycle too. It all helps to reduce the gigantic waste mountain of the season, as well as avoiding scenes such as this, below, taken last year as general waste bins awaited post-Christmas collection.

Our family used our food waste in several recipes, including one trying out our new air fryer by making leftover veg fritters. (Mash up your leftovers, form them into fritter shapes, brush both sides with vegetable oil. Air fry at 200C for 12 minutes, turning them over once.)

Leftover veg fritters – no, they’re not burnt, your device’s battery must be running low.

 Keep in mind the following tips for recycling your festive waste.

Food waste

 It’s good to know that after reusing or freezing your food waste, your leftover leftovers can be put to good use feeding the microbes in what I call the Bacteria Cafeteria in the composter.

Regarding composting food waste, we are sometimes asked about whether bones can be added to the Green Johanna. We hear many different stories from customers about this. Some tell us they add chicken carcasses to their Johanna and the bones disappear completely; others say bones have been stripped down but are still visible in the finished compost. This means that the bones need to be picked out of the compost and if you have dogs there could be a danger of them getting hold of the bones. For that reason, we don’t recommend that bones are added to the Johanna. They can be added to the Green Cone, however, which doesn’t produce compost.  

We were fascinated to hear the experience of one customer who found a dead duck by her pond and disposed of the body in her Green Johanna. She said the duck disappeared – the only part that was visible when she came to remove the compost was the bill!

Packaging

Did I mention I’ve got an air fryer? I try to work it into most conversations. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I like to wait until I’m sure some new-fangled thing really does work before I dip a toe in. Once I’m convinced about the air fryer I might move on to that Internet.

A sign of how composting can get under your skin is the joy I felt unpacking the air fryer and realising what great air pockets the craters in the cardboard packaging would make for the composting micro-organisms. The air fryer sat abandoned as I prioritised ripping up the cardboard.

Perfect packaging for the compost bin

If cardboard is being sent to be recycled, flatten any boxes to save space. Keep them dry as they can’t be recycled if they get wet and go mouldy.  

Christmas trees

You’ll soon be turning your mind to taking down the tree – unless you’re like a relative of ours who puts it up the day after Halloween and takes it down on Boxing Day.

The following tips from Rod Weston’s carryoncomposting.com website are useful.

  •  Shred the tree first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes to speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available, branches can be cut into thumb-size pieces, but these will be slow to compost and it’s easier to donate the tree to the local authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points in January.
  • Pine needles are tough with a waxy coating and take a long time to break down. Shred them first if you can and avoid dumping a lot of them in a thick layer. Mix them in with something that encourages airflow such as dead leaves or scrunched up newspaper. You could also make the most of their slow decomposition by sprinkling them over muddy paths. Pine needles are acidic when they fall from the tree but after composting they have a nearly neutral pH. (gardeningknowhow.com)
  •  There is increased interest among the eco-conscious in eating (yes, eating) various parts of the tree. I didn’t know until reading an article in The Observer that fir trees can be used in ice-cream, to pickle eggs and vegetables or crushed to flavour gin or vinegar.

Food experts say the needles can be used like rosemary or bay leaves in cooking, creating a flavour of citrus and pine. They’re also a good source of vitamin C. The wood can be burned to make pine ash, which can be used in gardens and for cleaning.

 The baker and food writer Julia Georgallis, author of How to Eat Your Christmas Tree, has been working with Christmas trees for years. “You can pretty much eat the whole thing,” she says.

She recommends wearing gloves to handle a spruce tree, as they can be spiky. She hopes that eating pieces of their Christmas tree will help people to reconsider what is waste and what can be reused.  

It’s important to use only organic trees, grown without pesticides.  Fir, spruce, and pine are the most commonly bought trees and these are safe to eat but avoid cedar and cypress which are inedible. Yew trees are poisonous and should never be eaten.

Christmas cards

  • Compost suitable cards to provide carbon content in your composter. Any cards decorated with glitter, foil, cellophane, plastic or anything laminated can’t be composted or recycled.

Parts of cards such as this, featuring gold ribbon and foil, should be disposed of in general waste, but the plain paper part can be torn off and composted or recycled.

  • If recycling cards at supermarket drop-off points or household recycling sites, remember to remove any items that can’t be recycled, such as decorations mentioned above and batteries that might be in musical cards.
  • Make gift tags: You don’t have to be creative to make gift tags from old cards – both Christmas cards and ordinary birthday cards – so you never have to buy them. Save string to use as tags. Or cut out images for children to make their own cards next year.

Make your own gift tags

  • Make banners or bunting (easy to store, put up, take down) or turn cards into mini calendars.
  • Schools can recycle cards by showing children how to turn them into postcards for next Christmas or festive bookmarks.

Wrapping paper

  • Compost suitable, unadorned wrapping paper.
  • Remember the slogan ‘Scrunch it to sort it’.  If your wrapping paper stays in a ball when you scrunch it up it can be recycled (providing it’s not covered in glitter). If it unfurls itself, it can’t.
  • Remove plastic tape. 
  • Reuse – I know I’m not the only person who goes round picking up wrapping paper as it’s discarded in the unwrapping frenzy. Smooth it out (iron if necessary) for reuse. It can also be used to line drawers.    

Calendars

 I came up with my own recycling idea as I was dismantling last year’s office calendar. It’s a Royal Academy calendar with beautiful pictures that I often use to make colourful wall displays.

The calendar pages have images but also the days of each month, of course. I use the pages as personalised gift wrap with the birthday girl or boy’s name emblazoned on the date.

Corks

  • Cork is compostable because it’s made from plant-based material from the bark of the cork oak tree – it grows back without harming the tree.
  • Use as a carbon-rich input in compost, but not if the cork has been used as a stopper for chemicals.  
  •  Check it’s real cork not plastic made to look like cork. Cut open to check.
  • Break or chop up to compost quicker. You can also rub it on a grater to crumble the cork (although we find this time-consuming).
  • A cork that’s added whole may not break down completely so pick it out and put it back through the composter.
  • Remove plastic or foil or wax coverings.
  • You can send corks to recorkeduk.org – a recycling scheme.
  • Make gardening ‘eye protectors’ by making a hole and putting them on top of garden canes.
  • Use corks to suppress weeds and hold in moisture around potted trees.

Wreaths

Plant materials can be composted once any glue, plastic, glitter and wiring is removed. Holly is best shredded and used to make leaf mould separately.

Julie

Spare Parts