Since those awful photographs of the beach at Henderson Island covered in millions of pieces of plastic and the news that a dead whale was found off the coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach, reducing your use of plastic has become more news worthy and a variety of papers and magazines are giving tips on how to reduce your plastic footprint.
These tips vary from refusing drinking straws in a bar to buying a wooden toothbrush and are all valid and help the planet and got me thinking about toiletries and single-use plastic. I have been aware for some time that this is a major use of plastic in our household. While moving on to solid shampoo has been fairly pain-free, I have failed to persuade Mr BOTRA to use a bar of soap for his shaving and instead he is trialling Lush’s shaving cream which still comes in a plastic tub which they will take back for recycling. We have never used liquid soap, preferring a simple bar of soap at the bathroom sink and have now moved on to a bar of soap, rather than a plastic bottle of shower gel, in the shower.
Spurred on by the top tips, I bought bamboo toothbrushes from an Ebay store and also a wooden wash-up brush. I don’t use much in the way of cosmetics, just lip salve which Lush package in metal tins and body lotion / moisturiser. My favourite body lotion is Le Petit Marseillais olive and amande cream that comes in a metal tin. It isn’t expensive and is available in French supermarkets and I stock up on this every time we are in France.
So far so painless. Reducing our use of single-use plastic is a slow process with small steps.
Moving on to tackling our cleaning products, we were at Port Sunlight on the Wirral recently and came away, as many do, with a cardboard pack of two bars of Sunlight soap. This has proved to be a great soap for all types of cleaning, including general cleaning of work surfaces and laundry.
One of my weaknesses is mints. I can’t really contemplate a journey in our campervan without having mints on hand to suck. These have always been tic-tacs; these tiny mints are perfect for a small treat but they are packaged in a plastic box. This had to change and I began the search for suitable vegetarian replacements. In Treasure Island Sweets I found tins of Barkley’s Mints. The mints taste great, come in a handy tin, wrapped in paper, so far so good but unfortunately each tin arrived wrapped in plastic! The small steps continue.
It is a fact of life [in the UK] that our walking shoes get muddy. Cleaning our walking shoes isn’t the favourite job of either of us but it helps if you have the right tools for the job. I recently needed to replace the simple suede brush we had as the bristles were wearing down. I found this Kiwi Suede and Nubuck brush in the supermarket and despite it costing more than I expected I decided to see if it was better than the brush I was replacing, as it claimed to have more and better features.
This Kiwi brush is plastic and retails at around £3. Kiwi recommend that the shorter rubber bristles are used for nubuck, the longer bristles can be used for removing soil in crevices and the shaped plastic edge can clean seams.
I found it didn’t work quite like Kiwi proposed. After walks on sticky chalk soils and the thick clay of the Yorkshire coast our shoes were heavy with mud. After each trip we left them to dry for a few days and then tackled the cleaning. The longer bristles worked the same as any suede brush and got a lot of the dried mud off the shoes, along the seams, the sides of the soul and the top. The difficult bit of cleaning walking shoes and one where I hoped this tool might help is the grip pattern on the sole. For walking shoes to provide good traction a complicated grip pattern is designed by manufacturers, with many narrow crevices that get packed full of mud that dries to almost concrete. In addition small stones lodge in these crevices and need removing. Suede brushes cannot shift this mud easily and I usually end up seeking out a twig or a metal skewer to clean out the sole. Instead I tried using the curved plastic edge of the Kiwi brush. This did tackle these areas quite effectively but after only using the tool twice for our four shoes the plastic edge is showing significant wear; Kiwi don’t claim that this is what the plastic edges are designed for but if the plastic used was tougher it would work well for cleaning the soles of our walking shoes.
As this tool will be worn out very soon I will go back to an ordinary suede brush and a metal skewer to remove the soil from the grip on the soles of our walking shoes, as I really can’t justify the expense and waste of resources involved in buying a new plastic brush every six months.
Shopping has always been a minefield. We have tried to use our buying power [small though it is] as a force for good for a long time, balancing our desire to do as little as possible to damage the environment and workers rights alongside our need for quality and to save money for retirement. Recently we have been constantly reviewing how we can avoid plastic packaging as much as possible and I have blogged before on how we manage all our shopping by bicycle [even through the winter]. The cycling is easy, avoiding plastic packaging is the tougher call. For years we were part of a vegetable box scheme that supported a local organic grower and every week was a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ week as we ate whatever vegetable arrived. This is no longer an option and we have joined the masses trying to find supermarket vegetables that are not wrapped tightly in plastic.
The need to save money had taken me to Lidl and Aldi for all our shopping but these supermarkets lovingly wrap most of their fruit and vegetables in heaps of plastic; even the spring onions come in a plastic bag! Fortunately, I now have time to move around the supermarkets for different items. Our four local supermarkets sell lots of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, potatoes, peppers and onions loose but only our local Tesco sells large bunches of coriander and parsley that are not in sealed plastic, whereas Booths [a wonderful northern supermarket institution] is where I can fulfil my desire for cherry tomatoes and gorgeous tasty large flat mushrooms. I take a cloth bag on my shopping trips to help carry these items home.
We have now not only given up shop-bought hummus we have also given up all those plastic wrapped meat-free slices for sandwiches and we do without. The only convenience food we buy is Linda McCartney sausages that come in cardboard boxes [no plastic and they taste the best, hurrah!] But there are plenty of things there are no alternative for; Mr BOTRA isn’t able to give up his need for packets of crisps, although he has reduced his consumption and, although we make most of our own bread, so no plastic there, we’re not prepared to do without hot buttered crumpets for occasional breakfasts. We are certainly not perfect; sometimes we splash out on expensive butter wrapped in paper, but sometimes we save the money and throw in to the bin the combination of foil and plastic the budget butter comes in. We don’t have the space or a supplier for bulk pasta and rice [and even in bulk these items come in a plastic bag]. For non-food items we try and keep the cleaning ‘stuff’ to a minimum; it is easy to buy washing powder in a box but washing up liquid still comes in a plastic bottle.
Looking at the spreadsheet, it seems that although we’ve moved away from the cheaper supermarkets for our vegetables, by giving up the [often expensive] convenience foods our food bill hasn’t increased over the last twelve months and so we can stay within budget.
We have a spreadsheet that tracks our savings [of course], where they are and what they are earning. One strand of our savings is a chunk of premium bonds and what this lovely spreadsheet reveals is that the amount of our winnings from these premium bonds has decreased [okay let’s be honest, it has halved] over the last three years. In 2014 and 2015 we received a return of around 1.5% from our winnings on the fluctuating amounts of premium bonds we held but last year our return was only 0.75%.
I was bought up in a rural post office and so have always been a little sentimental about premium bonds as before the internet it was the local post office where you bought your premium bonds. My parents were in a premium bond club, where a handful of neighbours pitched in every week and bought a premium bond for one member of the club, this way they received a premium bond every month or so. I remember the excitement at home when they occasionally won a few pounds. I have also long had a soft spot for ERNIE, the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment that chooses the winners each month but it seems ERNIE doesn’t have the same loyalty towards me and it might be time to part company.
And yet, we will miss the excitement of the win. These days we receive an email when one of our premium bonds has been chosen by ERNIE and there is always much heart pounding and nail biting in the BOTRA household until we have checked our account, followed by inevitable disappointment when we find we have not won a life changing amount but just another £25.
In the Money Saving Expert article from October 2016 premium bond winnings are discussed. Apparently premium bonds are the number one saving product in the UK, with over 21 million people having at least one, although no doubt many of these people have forgotten all about the one or two bonds they own. Although any winnings are still tax free, the changes to tax on interest in the UK make this aspect of premium bonds less appealing today. The article describes much better than I can that, although the annual prize rate is currently 1.25%, this does not represent the winnings you are likely to receive and that with £31,000 saved in premium bonds each month one in 240,000 people will win nothing at all.
Premium bonds are really a lottery [after all there is a chance of winning anything between nothing and a whole shed load of money] but at least it is a lottery where you don’t lose your capital. Mr BOTRA and I have agreed that sentimentality is not always the best way to decide where to save and despite my childhood memories of premium bonds the numbers are pushing us to reconsider this aspect of our savings.
We have a long way to go before we are anywhere near a Zero Waste Home. But, as with everything, when the overall goal is so enormous I feel better if I at least start to make some small steps towards getting there.
Since the 1980s we have taken many tiny steps towards being a low waste house. We already make our own bread; we don’t buy any sort of microwave meals [we don’t have a microwave] or convenience foods [with the exception of Linda McCartney’s sausages, which come sensibly packaged in just an easily recycled cardboard box]. We gave up laundry liquid for a cardboard box of powder earlier this year and buy as many fruit and vegetables that are both local and come without packaging as we can find. We have recently moved on to Lush shampoo bars, rather than buying plastic bottles. We keep leftovers in bowls and containers in the fridge [and then use them] and have a roll of clingfilm we have owned for decades and it just seems a shame to throw it away.
So, it has been a long time in coming but I finally got around to making our own hummus. This is something I eat lots of and the plastic pots it comes in have been taunting me every time I bought it and spoiling my enjoyment of this wonderful food.
For me the crucial step was buying a jar of tahini [we always have garlic, olive oil and chickpeas in the cupboard] … every time I went shopping I prevaricated because it was just something else to make space for in to our tiny kitchen. I know that making hummus is really easy to do and takes just a few minutes, after all I made my own back in the eighties when you couldn’t find it in a supermarket. But last week I got a grip, bought the tahini and whipped up some delicious hummus.
So for a day or two I will enjoy the virtuous feeling of taking a step in the right direction until I read some more and come up with the next thing to tackle … if I can find room for a five litre container of white vinegar it might be cleaning products.
I will admit I was nervous trimming Mr BOTRA’s hair for the first time as I didn’t want to make him the laughing stock of his office. Fortunately, we seem to have got away with it and no one asked him the name of his amateur hairdresser.
A few months ago we splashed out some of our hard-earned on hair clippers [of course after thinking about it for some months and researching the best options]. Although the cost of buying the hair clippers was about £50 this outlay does now mean that we can both have our hair cut for free. Even though neither of us have ever visited any of the fancy salons in Manchester city centre, DIY hair cutting still saves us around £250 a year. That means in just a few months the hair clippers have already paid for themselves.
As well as saving money, we no longer have to be a part of that painful experience of chatting to the hairdresser [maybe this awkwardness is just my socially inadequacy]. For Mr BOTRA and I, finding things to chat about to each other has never been a problem [we already know where we are going to go on holiday] so hair cuts at home are more relaxed and save time too.
Home hair cuts are not for everyone. We are not able to create that perfect coiffured look at home but fortunately, that isn’t what we need. Neither of us have any job interviews coming up, need to be mother-of-the-bride or need to impress anyone. We understand that there are times when you might not want to have a home haircut. What we are both interested in at the moment is looking reasonably tidy, having a short cut that is easy to wash and doesn’t take any styling and [of course] in saving money.
To get even a mention on this blog products have to be exceptionally good value; that is they are either really cheap or they hit all corners of the BOTRA-trinity of being affordable, high quality and long-lasting. The wonderful Leather Genie shoe polish pushes these buttons and works better than any shoe cleaning product we have every used before.
When it comes to shoe cleaning Mr BOTRA and I don’t generally get over-excited but we have found this fantastic product saves us both money and time … a win-win in anyone’s books.
We found this super merchandise in an unlikely place. We were strolling around the Caravan and Motorhome Show in Manchester last year, admiring ‘vans we couldn’t afford / didn’t need and looking at accessories we didn’t want when we spotted a shoe cleaning stall. As usual my shoes needed some TLC and so I stopped to see what the fuss was about. In just a few minutes the salesperson bought my shamefully scruffy walking shoes up to such a lovely shine I was astonished. And yet, we don’t make snap purchasing decisions in the BOTRA household and so we had to do a few circuits of the venue mulling over the spending of £13 before we returned to the stall and came away with our very own pot of Leather Genie.
Leather Genie uses jo joba oil to give a shine to your leather, be it shoes, furniture or clothing. The polish is quickly applied with a sponge in a no-mess fashion and shining your shoes takes only a minute or two and gives a grease-free lustre to leather in any colour.
No one would call me a smartly-dressed individual, my preferred look is comfy walking gear and that includes my shoes. That said, I don’t like to waste money and throw shoes away just because they are scuffed. I had a pair of burgundy leather shoes whose soles still had plenty of wear but which all sorts of cleaning products had failed to bring back to any sort of sheen and even I had become too ashamed to wear them for anything beyond going out to the bins. A quick rub with the Leather Genie and these shoes were once again presentable, now that is a result.
I am not an enthusiastic shoe cleaner, as you can probably guess, and generally grab a pair of shoes just before I head through the door and as I put them on realise how shabby they look. Because the Leather Genie is colourless and smells pleasant it is possible to quickly shine up my shoes without getting messy black / brown polish over my clothes and still get out of the house on time; this may not be glamorous but it is pretty cool.
We have had our tub of this magical shoe cleaning polish for over twelve months now and it looks like it will last a few more years, so £13 from the family budget well spent.