The problem with plastic

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Our family is taking part in Plastic Free July (PFJ). Our pledge is to attempt to not purchase any plastic at all and go completely plastic free for the month. The panic really set in last weekend on how we were actually going to do it. We all know that plastic isn’t so fantastic but it takes something more to get motivated to make the conscious effort everyday to make it a priority. I think the tipping point for us was this video taken at a really magic snorkelling spot we had been to and snorkelled there as a family. It really was quite devastating for us to see.

While we were in that same part of the world we went on a full day coast walk and came across a secluded beach that had quite a lot of plastic on it. There were no tourists there and it made me wonder how sanitised the beaches are on other parts of the island to hide the plastic that gets washed up on shore. Plastic is such a ubiquitous material that it’s not really noticed until you try to avoid it or see the rubbish like that.

The problem with plastic isn’t just the mess it creates. Plastic will usually end up having one of three journeys. Most plastic isn’t recycled and ends up in landfill. The plastic gets layered and compressed with other materials and as it rains the rain filters through the landfill it collects harmful chemicals. Those leachates seep into the soil and contaminate the water table which in turn affects the plants and animals.

The second journey is via wind or water into waterways making it’s way to the ocean. The ocean has very powerful and predictable currents that keep our planet habitable. These plastics have been accumulating in the ocean, most notably in the great pacific garbage patch. There is real risk that the patch will impact the currents that transport the cool water from the poles to the warmer equatorial waters and will interrupt the earths cooling system.

Finally, a small fraction of plastic will be recycled. However, plastic always eventually fatigues and breaks. It can only get down cycled it never goes away and will either end up in landfill or the ocean eventually.  While some scrunchable plastics can be put into REDcycle bins, it’s unclear if these end up in landfill or actually do get recycled. The ABCs War on Waste put a tracker into one of those soft plastic recycling bins and unfortunately found it went to landfill.

In the lead up to PFJ I also got the family to watch Plastic Ocean on Netflix which seemed to do the trick on re-enforcing the message to the family that plastic is not so fantastic. So in the words of Maya Angelou “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better”. This is easier said than done, plastic is absolutely everywhere, but I think half the battle is making it a priority when life is so busy. So here is how our first week of plastic free july went.

Most plastic consumed in our house is via the kitchen. So on Sunday 1 July the five of us sat together and planned out our plastic free meal plan for the week. We also did some food prep and cooking for the week to make it easier.

Weekday breakfast:

  • homemade sourdough fruit toast with butter
  • toast with jam, peanut butter, honey or eggs
  • porridge or homemade muesli

Weekend breakfasts:

  • Pancakes with maple syrup
  • Arepas with abuelitos eggs and honey

Snacks:

  • Seasonal fruit – eg apples, mandarins, oranges
  • homemade hommus or guacamole and vegetable sticks.
  • Date and ginger cookies
  • Apple and walnut cake

Dinners

  • Fish fingers with mashed potato and silverbeet
  • Spinach and ricotta ravioli with porcini sauce
  • Baked pakora with mango chutney
  • Baked lentil pasta
  • Heading out for dinner
  • Massaman curry
  • Minestrone soup

Dessert

  • homemade preserved apricots with macadamia mylk custard
  • dehydrated orange slices dipped in melted chocolate
  • hot chocolate

I always grow herbs, lettuce and silverbeet in the garden as this is pretty hard to get plastic free in the shops. I also have jars of homemade preserves and jam handy, but this is easy to buy in glass jars. The porcinis I collected and dried myself and store in glass jar, I don’t think dried porcini can be purchased plastic free. Part of the panic that set in on first day of plastic free july was having some meals the kids could cook that were quick and easy mid week meals, but we found some things they could manage.

We have almost run out of toothpaste so I had a go at making my own but it was a bit of a disaster. I found all the ingredients plastic free, mixed coconut oil, calcium powder, baking powder and peppermint essential oils and it set quite hard. It felt very good on the teeth when I used it before it set, so I am going to remake it without the coconut oil and use as a tooth powder and dip the wet brush in the container to pick up the powder.

On one of the days I forgot my keep cup for my almond milk cappuccino I treat myself to at work. I just grabbed a mug and took it to the coffee shop, without skipping a beat they made me a small cappuccino and off I went. Some cafes make their own nut milks for coffee and I’m hoping this becomes the new norm so that less waste is produced by us all. We also went to out to dinner one night. I just checked out the drinks in the fridge to see which ones were plastic free before ordering and made it really clear we didn’t want straws – easy.

I did have a couple of plastic free fails. I went to the kids uniform shop and was rushed and had about 10 other things on my mind and only realised when I got in the car that I had the clothes packed in a plastic bag, doh! I had also been making macadamia mylk from macadamia nuts I’d foraged. I love it but clearly noone else in the house does. They had been tucking into a can of powdered milk that we bought for a multiday hiking trip. So they decided that they would buy b.d. farm milk again. I’m determined to work on my nut milk recipe and try and make sure it doesn’t split and stays delicious and creamy and will try and win them back on that one.  Hopefully the plastic free gods will forgive us for the plastic bag and the 2L milk container. Wish me luck for week 2!

 

 

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Winter edible weeds

cleared block

If my family had to pick one habit of mine that annoys the heck out of them its when I’m driving or walking and stop to look at plants. Today when out and about I saw a cleared house block and had to stop. Normally these cleared blocks are pretty barren and usually sprayed to keep the weeds down. This one wasn’t so I wanted to see what was growing. I was pretty surprised by the diversity of edible weeds on this block.

Most of the cover was from Mallow Malva neglecta. I really enjoy eating Mallow. It has a very mild flavour and has a slightly gelatinous quality to it. If you find it growing in your garden leave it in there and start eating it. Other plants will grow happily around it. Harvest the smaller leaves up to about the size of your palm, these can be eaten fresh. The seeds and young roots can be eaten too. It’s most likely taken over this block as this is compacted clay soil. The mallow is healing and fixing the soils on this block by aerating and breaking up the clay with it’s deep taproot and bringing up nutrients from deep in the soil up to the surface.

Other edible plants found were:

  • Lambsquarter Chenopodium album
  • Love lies bleeding  Amaranthus caudatus
  • Narrow leaf plantain Plantago minor
  • Common blackberry nightshade Solanum nigrum (only eat when the berries are at purple/black powdery bloom stage) 
  • Fennel
  • Parsley

I’m sure there was much more there but this is what I saw in a few minutes. When I got home I went out to the garden and also found stinging nettle which is also a good edible winter weed. Best to eat the young new shoots when using these for cooking. They need to be cooked first to get rid of the stinging hairs. These can be eaten like spinach when cooked, or fermented into nettle beer. As they get older the stems can be used for weaving.

nettle

 

All about oranges

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100 years ago the land I live on used to be a substantial orange grove. There’s still one of the original trees from the original grove in my next door neighbours backyard. Up the street another neighbour has a tree and can’t eat more than one a day because he’s diabetic so he’s been sharing the fruit with people in the street. About 10 kgs were dropped over to me one day after I’d foraged some from an orange tree that grows on public land. Needless to say I had way too many oranges.

Apart from giving a heap away we’ve been eating them fresh. I also made some juice. I have made Tunisian orange syrup cake in the past which is delicious but it doesn’t use up a lot of oranges. To use up the bulk of these ones I’ve cut them thinly into 5mm rounds and put in the dehydrator (10 hours at 70C) to make dried orange chips. They look like stain glass windows when ready. No need to peel off the rind this can be eaten too when dried. Once cooled and dried melt some dark chocolate and dip the orange chips into the dark chocolate. Put in the fridge on trays to set the chocolate. Store in an air tight jar.

Davidson plum

 

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I came across this Davidson plum that was fruiting right now. The flavour is like eating an intensely flavoured lemon tart. I never thought they could grow in Adelaide but like other subtropical plants they just need the right microclimate. While recipes say to add more sugar to disguise the tartness, I personally love tart fruit so wouldn’t add much sweetness to these if at all. These can be eaten fresh or cooked up like any other plum. Until I get my own little tree or access to more fruit I’ll have to just dream about cooking these up into a divine little tart.

Chickweed

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My Kris Kringle bought me a subscription to one of the big Australian gardening magazines last Christmas. I really enjoy sitting back and reading the magazines that regularly turn up, but I was bemused at one little snippet in the mag on chickweed. It said that a job to do in the garden was to remove chickweed. I was confused. Why? Chickweed is such a good plant to have in the garden and is very good to eat. There was no mention of the benefits of this humble little plant.

So, this morning while out in the garden I came across a little patch of chickweed in a wooden box I was getting ready to plant in. Instead of removing it, I harvested it for eating before planting the other plant. To harvest chickweed, gather it up in your hand and cut with scissors like you’re giving it a crew cut. This will help it reshoot and grow  again. When you bring it inside make sure you inspect the harvest carefully. This is because it scrambles and tangles up with other plants that you may or may not want to eat.

Chickweed or Stellaria media can be confused with Euphorbia peplus, which is definitely not edible. Chickweed has a line of hairs along the stalk which changes position at each node. Euphorbia peplus releases a white milky sap when you break the stem. This sap is great for burning off warts, sun and cancer spots. It’s not good if you get the sap in your eyes or mouth.  Like all wild edibles, be sure about your identification before eating.

After its been separated out from any other plants, put it in a bowl of water. Swish it around to get any dirt off. I changed the water over  a few times to get any gritty dirt out of the plant. At this point you can shake it dry and use fresh in a salad. Chickweed can also be pulped up and placed on any itchy skin conditions like a rash. Mine grows near nettle, and is a good remedy if you get a skin irritation from the nettle. It can be eaten a few different ways but today, I made chickweed pakora pancakes for lunch.

While this recipe makes heaps of pakora mix, keep the dry mix in a jar in your pantry for easy pakora when you feel like it.

Pakora flour

1 kg besan flour

60 gm salt

40 gm cumin powder

30 gm garam masala

75 gm garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

25 gm asafoetida

25 gm fennel seeds

Mix all the dry ingredients well and store in jar in pantry. Just add a little water when ready to make a thick batter.

Chickweed pakora pancakes

2 cups chickweed, finely chopped

1 cup pakora flour

Enough water to make a batter

olive oil, for frying

Mix all the ingredients well. Add 3 – 4 tablespoons of oil to the pan and use medium heat. Add tablespoon of chickweed mix to the pan and flatten into a pancake. Fry on each side for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with chutney.

 

Lilly pilly

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These Lilly pilly had a lovely crunchy texture, refreshing mild flavour and didn’t have a strong tannin flavour like some can. This was a mighty tree but had some low branches I could harvest from. While they’re great to eat fresh I decided to preserve some of their goodness. They are high in vitamin C and I suspect are good for staving off winter colds and flus.

First I cleaned them up by tipping them in the kitchen sink with cold water and a cup of white vinegar. I let it soak for 30 mins and give it a little swirl. Then took out a hand full at a time and picked out the bad ones before placing in an extra large colander to dry. These were relatively big berries so it didn’t take too long. These can be stored fresh in the fridge or made into a pink fermented fizzy drink. I dried mine and made a mint jelly with them.

Dried Lilly Pilly 

Cut them around the middle and pop out the seed with your thumb or the tip of the knife.  Place each half facing up on a dehydrator tray. Place some foil underneath or silicon baking sheets so they don’t fall through when they shrink. Set the temperature on 70C for 7 hours. Good sprinkled on top of muesli or eaten in a trail mix.

Lilly pilly minty jelly

Lilly pillies

Apples, optional

Native mint, Mentha australis

Water

Sugar

Add just enough water to cover the fruit. Chop the apple and include the skins and cores. No need to deseed the berries. Just put them in the pot whole. The berries will want to float so place a plate over them to hold them under the water. Bring to a boil and a rolling simmer for 30 mins. It’s ok if it cooks a bit longer, you just want it soft and for the flavour and pectin to release in the water.

Once it’s cooked set up a strainer over a large bowl and line it with a clean cloth. I used calico but any clean cloth will do. Place a small plate into the strainer to stop the big particles pushing through the cloth. This will result in a clearer jelly. Pour all the fruit into the strainer and carefully remove the small plate. Don’t gather up the sides of the cloth and squeeze or you will get cloudy jelly. Leave to drain into the bigger bowl overnight. In the morning I had a pink coloured opaque liquid. You can keep the liquid  in the fridge until you’re ready to do next step

Ratios are 1 cup liquid to just over 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a hard boil for at least 10 minutes to help it reach setting point. Do the freezer plate test to check if it’s ready.

While this is boiling prepare your native mint. This mint is quite strong so you don’t need a lot. Place it in a bowl and blanch by pouring some boiling water over the leaves. Take leaves straight out of the water and place on a clean tea towel and pat dry. Let the jelly cool down a bit in the jars before placing mint into the jar. This will help the mint suspend in the jelly rather than clump up together.

You can skip adding the mint step and just have Lilly pilly jelly if you prefer.

 

 

 

 

Gearing up for plastic free July

Plastic Free July starts on Saturday and I’ve starting organising things so we’re ready to take part in the challenge. The idea of the challenge is to refuse single use plastic for the month and set goals to either:

  • avoid single-use plastic packaging
  • refuse the top four: bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups
  • go completely plastic-free.

This will be the third time we’ve done the challenge and I’m glad it’s coming up as we’ve had a lot of plastic sneak back into the house. If you start looking into plastic it’s a pretty dreadful environmental problem. It’s causing a great deal of harm in the oceans and will never go away. It’s also an endocrine disruptor and bad for your health. Our goal is to take more responsibility for our plastic consumption and reduce our use of single use packaging.

So here’s my top ten tips for getting the family ready for the challenge.

1. Find plastic free food

The biggest use of single use plastics in our house is from the packaging on our food. Have an explore and go to food shops in your area and see what they have in bulk. Take notes about what’s available and their prices. Often the bulk is cheaper but sometimes the prices can vary a lot between stores. For example, the exact same item was $9 a kilo at my local Foodland and was $24 at Goodies and Grains.

Take note which shops stock favourite items of family members or items they consider as essential – eg only one place sold bulk cornflakes. Make a game of it with the kids and see if they can find plastic free food. Find a good place to get your local fruit and vegetables as this will be the bulk of your shopping. The Adelaide Central Markets are a bit of a one stop plastic free shopping spot to go if there aren’t many options close by.

2. Find ways to bring the food home

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So now you’ve found your bulk food supplies you’ll need to get it home somehow. Get plenty of cloths bags to use in place of those thin plastic bags and packaging. These can be made, bought or repurposed. Save old bottles to bring home things like oil, vinegar and tamari. Some bulk places will sell you new bottles to refill and reuse. Bottles can also be bought at kitchen stores and places preserving items are sold. Wide mouth flip top jars are good for things like meat and cheese. Just make sure they tare the jar before weighing your items.

When you get home you’ll need to store the food in something. Save jars large and small for storing your food. I found gumtree and op shops were good for getting fowlers jars. These jars are really useful and used to be part of every home many years ago. Lids and seals for the fowlers jars can be bought at mitre 10. They can also be used for preserving.

The main thing is you don’t need to spend a fortune to get organised with containers. Reuse and repurpose what you can. One thing the family have made clear is that they need things labeled so they know what’s in the jars. I just use a bit of masking tape, stick it on the jar and write on that. To keep your vegetables fresh in the fridge put them in the crisper part of the fridge, get a pillow case, wet it then wring it out so it’s damp and lay it over the top of your vegetables. Keep it damp and replace it at least once a week.

3. Plan a plastic free menu

This is simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of the whole month. It’s easy because you have to work with what you can get and usually what’s in season so the menu is almost planned for you. The hard bit is making sure everyone knows what they can eat. On our first plastic free July I got a phone call from home saying they they were facing plastic free induced starvation because they had no idea what to eat. It only took me a minute to explain what was for planned for dinner and what snacks were in the house. They were then able to get dinner started. Unfortunately there are some things that you’ll just have to give up finding plastic free in the shops like potato chips, corn chips and berries.

4. Pack plastic free lunches 

Packing a plastic free lunch also needs a bit of preparation. As an adult it’s fine to take a jar with soup and your own bowl and spoon to reheat at work but for kids they don’t have that option. The focus of this prep is for kids lunches. Purchase a small food thermos for each of your kids so that they can take a warm meal of left overs or soup to school. Pack a fork or spoon in their lunch box.

Pack your own water. There’s really no need to buy bottled water, even less need to buy water imported from overseas. When your children’s plastic drink bottle dies, which it will, replace it with a stainless steel drink bottle. Kleen canteen has a good range and sell a plastic free lid made of bamboo, steel and silicone. I’d personally stay away from the aluminium drink bottles.

Pack a tiffin. Get some two or three tiered tiffins. If your child gets three breaks in the day get a three tiered tiffin. One level for each meal break -eg fruit time, recess, lunch. Stainless steel tiffins are a great investment, they will last forever and can be used to transport food when you have to bring a plate to share or are going on a picnic somewhere.

Pack using a cloth napkin. These can be used to wrap sandwiches, cake,  biscuits and any other dry food instead of using plastic wrap. I use the Japanese Furoshiki way of wrapping which is simple and effective. There are lots of products available, to wrap sandwiches etc, I used a fair few but I’ve found napkins go the distance and are easy to keep clean and double up as you guessed it – a napkin.

Again keep your eye out at op shops, I’ve picked up a thermos, stainless steel drink bottle and napkins from op shops. I don’t recommend packing glass drink bottles or glass jars in your kids lunch boxes – they’ll break and the school won’t be happy. For the grown ups, when your plastic containers die replace them with a good quality stainless steel lunch container. BYO cutlery and say no to straws. Take your own keep cup when you buy a coffee on the run.

5. Slow the flow of plastic in the bathroom

If you are looking for some quick wins then this is your room. No need to get anything, just swap to plastic free alternatives as things run out. Check online for more plastic free alternatives and ideas when things run out. Here are some of the main things you might run out of during the month.

Soap – get rid of the pump pack. Since when did soap need to be pumped out of a plastic bottle? Swap it out for unwrapped bar soap, this can be easily bought.

Toilet paper – most brands are wrapped in plastic. Unfortunately I found out that the Safe brand that I thought was wrapped in paper has a sneaky layer of plastic under the paper. The only brand I’m aware of that’s plastic free and easy to get is ‘Who gives a crap’. We get it in bulk in a box delivered to our house.

Tooth brushes – there are a few brands of bamboo tooth brushes around. We get ours in bulk from Environmental Toothbrush, again delivered to our door.

Shampoo and conditioner – there are lots of blog posts around on diy shampoos and conditioners. I haven’t tried any of them. Shampoo bars are available and look much like a soap bar. The Honey Shoppe and Soapbox at the central markets sell bulk shampoo and conditioner so you can refill your old bottles. Take small jars and trial a few first to see what works best with your hair before filling up a big bottle. You can reuse an old shampoo and conditioner bottle.

Tampons and pads – Without getting up close and personal menstrual cups are a far superior experience than tampons. There are also plenty of tutorials around on making your own reusable pads. These can also be bought online at places like etsy.

6. Make your own cleaning supplies

Bicarb and white vinegar will become your new best friend. You don’t need all the cleaning products on the market. They’re expensive and full of toxins. If you do want to buy some they can be refilled at a bulk shop. Here are some of the main things that might run out during the month.

All purpose cleaning spray – can be made by reusing an old spray bottle and half filling it with vinegar and the other half water. Add half a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil.

Bathroom cleaning spray – can be made by tightly packing orange rinds in with white vinegar for 2 weeks and then decanting into a spray bottle without the rinds.

Use a cotton face washer to wipe up spills and to use as a cleaning cloth.

Glass cleaner – spray with vinegar and wipe off with scrunched up newspaper to stop streaks on the glass.

7. Ditch the synthetic clothes

If you need to replace any clothes during the month replace with 100% natural fibres like wool, cotton, linen or hemp. Plastic microfibres get washed out with each rinse and end up in the oceans and in the bellies of fish and then in your belly if you eat fish.

8. Ditch the plastic toys

You could be doing really well during Plastic free July and all of a sudden someone will give your child a plastic toy.  Even worse the kids will pester you for some plastic widget that all the other kids seem to have – think fidget spinner. It’s really surprising how these things weave themselves into the house. It takes active and sustained vigilance to stem the flow of plastic toys.

If people want to buy a gift for your child suggest things like books, Waldorf/Steiner style handmade toys, or an experience – eg trip to zoo, cinema ticket. Some kids ask people to donate items to a charity thats important to them. Older kids might ask for money. When your kids ask for plastic toys it’s a good way of having the conversation about plastic. When people offer you or your kids plastic toys as freebees politely say ‘no thank you’.

9. Go for cloth nappies

If your kids are young enough to be in nappies there are a few plastic free options available and I’ve tried them all. Mine are well and truly out of nappies so there may be some other alternatives out there now. Different things will work better at different times. Choose what works for you:

  • cloth nappies – a good option, cheap to set up, dries quickly but not so good if you have to rely on tank water in a drought to wash them
  • designer cloth nappies – fitted nappies that you don’t need to fold, look good but take longer to dry and can be expensive to get set up
  • elimination communication – when done well its a great way of toilet training babies, saves on nappies and boosts confidence of the child.

Rather than using polyester wipes to clean your babies bum use cloth wipes. These can be bought at baby stores but I’ve found that target and Kmart sell them in packs for a very reasonable price. Get a small tea thermos and fill with hot water. When you need to clean the baby use the hot water to damp the cloth. This makes for easy cleaning.

10. Start small

Start small, start with one thing then move onto the next – eg if you get bread in plastic get in the habit of buying loose bread from the bakery. Most bakeries will sell it in paper but you can take a pillow case or other large cloth bag to transport it. Then once you’ve incorporated it into your routine move on to the next thing.

The thing about plastic is that it almost always needs replacing, it weakens with exposure to light, breaks and can’t be repaired.  When a thing need to be replaced see if something else you’ve already got can do the job. Does it actually need to be replaced? If it does opt to replace with steel, wood or glass alternatives.

Another good swap out is to grow your own herbs rather than buying them from the shops in plastic. Salad greens and other greens like silverbeet are really easy to grow at home either in the garden or in containers, they are much fresher too and don’t need to be bought in plastic. If you can grow your own berries and enjoy them when they’re fresh and in season. Visit a farm and pick your own berries and take your own container.  Work out what is doable and go for it.

Read books like Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson to get more ideas about plastic free living with a family. Check out online – No need for Mars, Treading my own path, Trash is for tossers, Zero Waste Home, the rogue ginger for ideas. This is a big challenge but well worth the effort. Good luck!