About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cutting down on waste, one thing at a time

I've been reading a few blogs recently in which people record all the rubbish, particularly plastic rubbish, that they dispose of in a week, or maybe in a day. I thought about doing this myself, then wondered what the value of such an exercise would be to me. I could pile up all my rubbish, document and photograph it, and think, Whoa! That's a lot of rubbish! or alternatively feel smug and think, That's not as bad as I thought it would be. Either way, what do I acheive?

If I ended up feeling smug, that obviously wouldn't be a very constructive outcome, but the other alternative is far more likely, and presumably this is the point of doing it. Would I then be motivated to cut down on how much stuff I throw away? Ignoring for a moment the fact that my main problem is bringing myself to throw anything away, ever, I'm not sure it would make that much difference. I'm already aware of the issues of excess packaging and I already have an almost pathological aversion to waste. However, we do still buy things that have some packaging, and a lot of this gets thrown away.

I think that rather than looking at packaging as a whole, a more productive approach for me is to pick on one item at a time and find an alternative way of doing things that doesn't involve throwing that thing away regularly. A little while ago, I switched from disposable sponge scourers for the washing up to homemade, washable discloths.

I make my own bread and I've been bothered by the piece of oiled cling film I use to cover the dough while it's rising, which gets thrown away with each loaf. I've long been aware of what they did in the days before cling film - they used a damp cloth - but I was a bit nervous about this method. What if I couldn't dry it out quickly - wouldn't it get smelly? What if it stuck to the dough - wouldn't it be horrendous to get the sticky dough out of the cloth? Recently I decided to get over these worries and just try it.


Rising bread dough under damp cloth

It actually sticks less than the oiled cling film, and when it does stick it's easier to peel off, so that's an improvement. As for drying it out, whenever I need to dry it, I have the oven on, almost by definition, so I can always hang it over the warm air vent at the top of the oven and it always dries. No doubt this is the way it's always been done.

5 comments:

  1. I generally do what you do, Rachel - switch one thing at a time when I realise how I can make a swap. My reason for doing the tracking packaging exercise though was to try to spot things I could spot that I've got a bit blind to because they're such an internalised part of my daily routine. I found it interesting to have everything listed and to be able to look at it a bit more objectively than sitting here on the sofa now and try to think what I could change next -- if you know what I mean. The exercise has made me more determined to cut out (or at least down) on shampoo & conditioner, and also make the transition to use loose tea rather than teabags when possible -- things I knew deep down I could improve but that I ignored on a day to day basis.

    Re: the damp towel thing - I think I'd be a bit nervous about that too - the worry that it'd get smelly. I know some bakers use a floured cloth instead - with a dusting of semolina on top (well on the bottom) of the loaf too, to further stop it sticking.

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  2. I think I'm just making excuses for not challenging myself, really! I was very interested to read your links about the non-compostable teabags. I'm still sticking mine on the heap and hoping for the best, but if I find lots of little bits of nylon fluff when I come to use the compost, I'll be rethinking that one.

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  3. Hi Rachel, I've just been admiring the pictures of your garden - it looks spectacular and I'm sure you are going to enjoy a wonderful harvest - always the optimist, me!

    We kept records of our rubbish to keep ourselves accountable - it helped us to target ourselves to keep on reducing, but I understand your sentiment that it might be a pointless exercise for some.

    Like Louisa, seeing everything from week to week helped me to see where we could improve things or make a better choice in the shops.

    Swapping disposable items for reusable ones is a great start and I love the fact you've braved the damp cloth - I use a tea towel and have never had any problems :)

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  4. Ha! Well, I thought I was doing pretty good with my plastic trash until I took Beth's challenge and was horrified by the results. The thing is there really isn't that much I can do (or am willing to do) to make it different.

    I am trying to cut down on internet purchases though. But sometimes when you can't find something locally it becomes the only real option (she says as she's about to go over to eBay to buy a sun shade to keep the heat off of the patio.)

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  5. I didn't really say much about why I don't think keeping records would work for me, but I've been thinking about it more since I wrote the post, and EcoCatLady has said pretty much what I'm worried about - that I'll be horrified at how much plastic I waste but at the same time, be unable/unwilling to do much about it. By focusing on just one thing at a time, I can gradually improve things, whereas if I look at the whole problem all at once, I might get overwhelmed and give up.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comments :-)

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