Wednesday, 12 April 2017

My bathroom cabinet detox

Over the last 2 and a half years, I've gradually cleaned my bathroom cabinet - i.e. I've stopped using a number of industrial products and I've replaced them with organic/natural ones commercialised by small companies with a conscience.

My motivation is to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals I use on my skin everyday. Why? Because many cosmetics and personal care products can contain chemicals, including endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), "which can cause adverse health effects, and some are potentially linked to breast cancer".

To be frank, I'm yet to apply the same rule to make-up... Although I don't wear make-up every day, I do wear foundation, powder and eyeshadow on a very regular basis. I haven't transitioned to organic cosmetic products yet. But, rather than focusing on what I still need to tackle, I thought I would share with you some practical information about all the positive changes I've made since 2015.

I hope it can be helpful. If you want to find out more about the chemicals that may be linked to breast cancer, I recommend you have a look to Breast Cancer UK #DitchtheJunk information sheet.

This post is NOT sponsored by any brands.

Everyday products

-The first product I stopped using in the bathroom was roll-on deodorant. Since January 2016, I've been using a paste made of coconut oil, clay, arrowroot and other natural ingredients. I buy it from the Natural Deodorant Co. At the moment, I'm using the Gentle Deodorant Cream (coconut and shea). The first deodorant I've bought from this company last me 4 months. The one I'm currently using has a more compact texture. I've bought it 6 months ago, if I remember correctly. I'm very happy with it!

- I've ditched shower gel quite a long time ago now - to reduce both waste and harmful chemicals. Now I only use soap bars.
I've tried The Soap Co. (ethical and made in the UK) and Dr. Bronner's - which is organic and fair trade. I bought the Dr. Bronner's bars from Whole Foods Market in Piccadilly Circus. My husband used them both for showering and washing his hair.
I am now using All Natural Soap as I try to support companies that manufacture their products in the UK or Europe as much as possible. It contains no parabens, no palm oil and no sodium laureth sulfate (SLS). I've also bought a shampoo bar from the same company. I haven't tried it yet - I've some shampoo and conditioner that need finishing first.

- I don't use industrial toothpaste anymore to avoid triclosan, among others. I've replaced it with a paste made of organic coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda, clay and essential oils. The brand is called Georganics that I've found in Whole Foods Market Piccadilly Circus. Their products are manufactured in the UK.
It took me some time to get used to it. The texture is very different from a conventional toothpaste. It doesn't foam. I gave pure bicarbonate of soda a try - as recommended by lots of zero waste bloggers - but it made my teeth too sensitive.

-My face moisturiser is a big jar of organic coconut oil. It contains no nasty chemicals, it does the job and it's super cheap! I think the last one I bought cost me less than £15. I've barely used a fourth of the jar over the last 7 months. Prior to that, I was buying expensive Dr. Kiel's moisturiser. I can't see any difference!

-As for face wash, I normally use Dr. Bronner's soap bar.

-I made a really nice toner with roses from my garden last spring. I'll make some more this year. I've found a recipe online. It took almost no time to prepare and it's very pleasant to use!

Make-up and other beauty products

-My mascara is from Dr. Hauschka. I don't wear it every day - especially in the summer. But I've been using the same one for at least a year and a half, if not longer.

-I've never been a big fan of lipstick but I've stopped wearing it all together. I use Burt's Bees lip balm.

-My body moisturiser is also from Burt's Bees.

-I made some grapefruit cellulite scrub last summer. I found the recipe on Hello Glow, a website where you can find lots of DIY beauty recipe. I haven't scientifically assessed how much of an impact me scrubbing my upper legs with this homemade scrub made but I love the smell of it and had the impression that it did made a difference.

Products I don't use anymore

-Perfume: unnecessary and can contain endocrine disruptors.

-Nail varnish: if there's one product packed full of horrible chemicals, this is it! The chemicals contained in nail varnish are quickly absorbed by your body. It's especially dangerous if you are pregnant or nursing. Children shouldn't be exposed to those toxins either. Yes, you can find some brands that contain none of the 5 main culprits normally used in nail varnish. Personally, I only used nail varnish occasionally so I can't be bothered to go and search for so-called "5-free" nail varnish.

-Cotton buds and cotton pads: unnecessary and polluting

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Zero waste broccoli and orange salad

The news that we should eat 10 portions of vegetables and fruit every day "for maximum protection against disease and premature death" cannot have escaped your attention. The findings of a study led by Imperial college have been widely reported in the UK press and abroad - and derided as a near-impossible task by a lot of British publications. 

I don't pretend that I eat 800g of vegetables and fruit religiously every day, i.e. the equivalent of 10 portions. But, by reducing the amount of processed food in my diet - for health reasons and for the sake of reducing the amount of waste I produce - I've automatically increased my veg and fruit consumption. 

From experience, I think the best way to include more fruit and veg in your diet is to :
1 - eat mostly vegetarian food (veg curry & chilli sin carne are some of my favourite veg dishes)   ; 
2 - have a piece of fruit in the morning with porridge, for example ;
3 - snack on an apple or a couple of clementines ;
4 - have grated carrots and other grated raw vegetables as a starter whenever possible ;
5 - eat a fruit for dessert (with or without yogurt).

In short, keep it simple! 

It doesn't mean you cannot be a bit adventurous time to time. Adding a fruit to a veg salad can work very well. I tend to forget about it but somehow got inspired to mix broccoli and orange in a salad the other day. It worked very well! I didn't follow a recipe. I just used (almost) all the veg I had in my fridge - including a sad looking half fennel bulb and a few floppy celery branches. 

Ingredients (for a big salad - serves approximately 6 people as a side dish) :
- 1 head of broccoli (boiled for 5-6 minutes maximum and cooled down under the water)
- 1 orange cut into pieces
- 1 spiralized courgette (I have a very basic Joseph & Joseph spiralizer
- half a fennel bulb roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper
- 2-3 branches of celery (cut into small pieces)
- a handful of pumpkin seeds (roast them in a pan for 6 minutes or so)

For the dressing, I mixed:
- some olive oil
- the juice of half a lemon (but you can probably use a bit more if you want a zestier flavour)
- salt, pepper
- a table spoon of liquid honey
- a sprinkling of ras el hanout (a mix of spices that I happened to have in my spice drawer)

I can't give you the exact quantities. I've improvised it. I do strongly recommend that you prepare the dressing separately in a small bowl. Therefore, you'll be able to try it and adjust quantities before adding it to the salad. 

Do you have a recipe that mixes fruit and veg? If so, leave a comment below this article. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

My resolutions for 2017

In 2017 I will...

1. Keep refusing plastic straws and let people know how much of a scourge they are for wild life and the planet in general. Don't feed me plastic! 

2. Give talks to fellow residents in my local area to let them know what they can do day to day to reduce their waste, save money and (re)discover small pleasures - all in one go.
For example, making tea with loose leaves (instead of using tea bags containing plastic), baking bread, using more natural ingredients as cosmetics.

I've been using coconut oil as a moisturiser since January 2016.

3. Use my sewing machine to mend and adjust clothes and also make Morsbags. Textile shouldn't go to waste! (And, no, you cannot throw old pants nor socks nor any textile with your household waste - that's a reminder for my other half, by the way)

4. Grow herbs in my garden in the summer. Everything tastes better with fresh herbs.

Mint is one of my favourite herbs - with basil.

5. Meet up with other zero waste advocates in London and share tips for a more sustainable and enjoyable life. 

What's your zero waste resolution for 2017?

Friday, 2 September 2016

Stop throwing money away for good

Recycling can be a source of frustration.

Of course, you want to do the right thing but, first, the lack of clear, useful information provided by certain food brands to their customers is truly infuriating (especially when the product is organic!); second, there are only some many types of waste recycled by the company used by your local council ; third, this list of items varies depending on where you live (including within the confines of the Greater London Authority). It's not surprising that many of us here in the UK end up throwing non-recyclable waste in the recycling bin by mistake. 

$15 millions raised for non-profit organisations 
Nevertheless, waste recycling can be a satisfying experience. It can even bring pride to your  community and enable you to raise money for your local school and/or your favourite charity. That's the deal offered by TerraCycle. The company claims to have collected more than 3 billions of pieces of waste and raised $15 millions for charities across the world.

TerraCycle European headquarters are located in Perivale, in North West London.
The waste they collect via their various recycling programmes is processed in Preston in Lancashire.

I've discovered TerraCycle about a year ago watching a TV report ahead of the COP 21, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. However, it took a visit to their London office for me to fully realize the positive impact TerraCycle has on local communities here in the UK.

A company created by a 19 year old
The company was set up in 2001 in the US by a student called Tom Szaky. Since then, it has become a serious player in the recycling field at the global level. The social entreprise inaugurated its European headquarters in London seven years ago. There, a team of 25 people runs its operations for the UK, France, the Nordic countries and other European countries. TerraCycle is currently established in 20 countries worldwide. It should enter the Indian market soon - interesting times ahead. 

The company was created in 2001 by a Princeton student, Tom Szaky.
Tom, the CEO of TerraCycle, has written several books about waste. 

"Everything is recyclable but there is a cost to it", Stephen Clarke from TerraCycyle Northern Europe sums up. To divert coffee packaging, baby food pouches, home cleaning products, aerosols and other materials from landfill, TerraCycle has struck a partnership with big international consumer brands. "Without those brands, we wouldn't be able to fund the programme", the communications director  insists right from the start.

The (coffee pod) money tree
The deals established by TerraCycle with Kenco, Tassimo, Ella's Kitchen, McVitie's and other brands enable the company to run free recycling programmes such as the writing instruments one, EllaCycle, the coffee packaging recycling programme or McVitie's biscuit wrappers programme. Volunteers order collection boxes from TerraCycle (for free), install them in public places (ex.: supermarkets, office buildings, companies premises) or in people's front gardens, for example. When they have collected a sizeable amount of pens, baby food pouches, biscuit wrappers etc., they send them back to TerraCycle (also for free). In return for their efforts, TerraCycle members earn points that can be redeemed for cash-payment to schools and non-profit organisations.

Collection boxes supplied by TerraCycle to its members for public drop-off points.
TerraCycle recommends installing them in supermarkets, office buildings 

"One of our more active members in the UK, George Thomson, has raised £5000 for MacMillan Cancer Support in the space of three years by collecting Tassimo coffee pods in Milton Keynes where he lives", communications executive Katie Saunders mentions during our meeting. "Tassimo pods recycling volunteers in the UK form a very dynamic group! They even have a Facebook page where they exchange tips and information about collection points", Katie adds, clearly impressed with the dedication shown by members of TerraCycle.

Poster posted by George Thomson on Facebook on July 22nd 2016. 
Initially the retired Milton Keynes resident was aiming at raising £50. 

In reality, George Thomson doesn't just collect Tassimo pods. He takes part in various TerraCycle free recycling programmes. In South Belfast, a group of friends baptised We Can Recycle also runs several TerraCycle programmes simultaneously. The money they raise is split between Kicks Count, a health charity, and Assisi Sanctuary Northern Ireland, a charity that re-homes pets. The small volunteer group also collects cigarette butts - just for the sake of clearing litter and recycling valuable materials.

The most littered item in the world
The cigarette waste recycling programme has been launched in the UK in September 2015 by TerraCycle. "Cigarettes are the most littered item in the world", Stephen Clarke informs me. TerraCycle members cannot earn points by collecting cigarette butts - "it's prohibited by the law", the communications director explains. But volunteers are motivated nonetheless. More than half a million butts have been recycled so far in the UK at 220 location points.

TerraCycle is not allowed to reward volunteers with points for recycling cigarette waste.
The programme, launched a year ago in the UK, is nonetheless popular.

Cigarette butts are broken down between down between organic and non-organic materials. The latter are used to make plastic pellets. "The pellets are then used to make construction pallets, for example. Those kinds of pallets are much stronger than wood", Stephen ensures.

TerraCycle doesn't manufacture any upcycled objects - with the exception of food packaging rolls that they sometimes turn into bags and other goodies for their brand partners at their demand. The raison d'être of the business is to orchestrate the collection of substantial quantities of hard-to-recycle waste and find specialised recycling factories for those items. The engagement taken by TerraCycle is to never incinerate or send to landfill the waste it collects.

TerraCycle manufactures a few upcycled items for the brands it has a partnership with.
Those items are very sought after by customers. 

At a personal level, I consider TerraCycle recycling programmes as an opportunity to reduce my waste even further. I am thinking about pens and coffee packaging, in particular - and other materials that I still use but are not recycled by my local council.

At a community level, those recycling programmes can also be a very good tool to get children in recycling. Also, think about the number of pens companies go through. The same for cafés and restaurants regarding coffee packs. If collected via TerraCycle, it's a lot of money that could be raised for schools and charities in Harlesden where I live.

Waste is a gigantic problem that needs tackling from different sides. As much as I am advocating for waste reduction first and foremost, I am aware recycling has to be part of the mix.

  • ACT
  1. To check the location of TerraCycle collection points in the UK click here.
  2. To set up a TerraCycle account click here.

If you collect waste on behalf of TerraCycle in the UK or somewhere else in the world, please share your experience with other readers by leaving a comment below. Thank you! 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Take care of your waste and your health in one go

Two weeks ago, a Swedish journalist from Dagens Nyheter interviewed me about my (almost) zero waste lifestyle. I told her that there were a number of convenience items we can all do without very easily - kitchen towels, cling film and foil, for example. "But I use foil every time I have barbecue", she replied. "Well, the thing is that aluminium foil shouldn't be used to wrap up hot food. It's been proved that aluminium leaches into the food and that's not good for your health", I informed her. 

You see, I don't go about lecturing people about what they should eat or not eat, nor how they should eat their food. However, if I know something that they don't and that information is crucial to their health, I will let them know. I am not a doctor, I am not a scientist but it's a fact that industrial chemicals are interfering with our bodies and causing a lot of harm. As a journalist, I feel it's my moral duty to inform people about such things. And point them in the direction of well-informed articles on the subject. 

Take bisphenol A (BPA), a widely used chemical. You find it in plastic, food can lining and also till receipts. It's an endocrine disruptor. It's been linked to a vast array of serious illnesses and life-limiting health conditions - cancer, asthma, obesity, cardiovascular risks, infertility etc. The European Union has banned the production of baby bottles containing BPA in March 2011. Since January 2015 BPA is banned from all food containers in France. (Questions remain regarding the industrial chemicals used to replace BPA in those products, though.)

BPA is not the only culprit. Phthalates are also suspected to be an endocrine disruptor. They are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. They are used in food packaging, cosmetics, personal care products etc. 

The combined effect of those endocrine disruptors and other chemical components can be extremely potent. It's called the cocktail effect (l'effet cocktail, en français). "Significant effects can occur even when organisms are exposed at levels below their individual effects concentration", the Chem Trust informs us. In other words, small quantities of chemical components can be innocuous by themselves but very harmful when they interact with other of chemical components.

Hence, the attraction of a zero waste lifestyle - for me and lots of people. 

Less plastic and more natural products in your day-to-day life 
= a reduced exposure to all those health hazards 
= a healthier life

We cannot completely control our environment. That doesn't mean we cannot control it at all. Take it from someone who has been struggling with infertility for more than three years. I don't know what impact those endocrine disruptors have had - if at all - on my inability to conceive so far. Likewise, I have no guarantee that I will become pregnant if I keep limiting my exposure to BPA, phthalates, pesticides etc. However, I know that my general health will improve. That, in itself, is important if I want to make the most of my life - independently from my family circumstances.

Buying loose organic vegetables enables you to avoid exposure
to both pesticides and plastic packaging. 

If you want to find out more about the impact of endocrine disruptors on our health:
- check out Breast Cancer UK: you will find a lot of information there about the links between harmful chemicals and breast cancer; check out their #DitchTheJunk campaign
-visit the Chem Trust website and read their blog (Obesity and diabetes - a chemical link?, for example)
-visit the Environmental Working Group, a non-for-profit American organisation dedicated to protecting human health and the environment

Monday, 30 May 2016

Zero waste gardening in London

Eight years after moving to London from Paris, I feel like I'm at a turning point in my life. I'm becoming someone who enjoys gardening. Not only that but I'm even thinking about starting a diary to keep track of what's going on in my garden. Damn! How did that happen? 

The logic is simple. Having an outdoor space is a precious resource. Like any other resources, it shouldn't go to waste. Saying that, gardening is not a chore on my to-do list. I enjoy being outside. After spending a couple of hours sorting some garden waste or doing some weeding, I feel refreshed. Being surrounded by waist-high wild flowers gives you a different perspective on the world - especially when you live in a very urban part of London. 

There are lots of wild poppies in my garden at the moment. 

So I took advantage of today's bank holiday (jour férié, in French) to repot all my house plants in the garden. I get a lot of joy looking at my succulents, for example. Plus, plants are not just pretty. They are useful (watch Kamal Meattle's TED talk below). Take spider plants. They do an amazing job at cleaning indoors air. So it's only fair that I return my spider plant the favour by repotting it once a year, as I recently learned reading The Thrifty gardener by Alys Fowler

I had fun grouping all the repotted plants together for a "family portrait". 

To indulge in my new hobby I only used a couple of gardening tools and some compost. I bought a big bag of multipurpose compost for less than £7 (I only used a fifth of it, maximum). I didn't need to buy any pots. I used some of the empty pots that we've found in the garden. They were pots hiding in every corner of the place when we moved in. We also inherited a fig tree from the previous owners. It's in a pot and there are a few very small figs on it. 

Talking about exotic fruit, I've started growing from seed not one, not two but three avocado plants this week. I hope that they will all sprout and that I'll be able to give a couple of them to family and friends. It would be a great zero waste present for someone, one day. "The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now." (Chinese proverb). 

Interested in finding out more about air purifying plants? Watch the TED talk given by Kamal Meattle. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Thrifty Gardener

My husband received Alys Fowler's The Thrifty Gardener as a birthday present from his sister last week. The book was published in 2008 but, as far as we are concerned, it couldn't be more of the moment (thank you, Rachel!). 

Our garden was completely overgrown when we moved
into our  house in Harlesden in September 2014.

A year and a half after moving into our house, we've just started designing our garden. Our plan is to grow vegetables, aromatic herbs, have a few chickens and plant a few more bee friendly flowers. But we've never looked after a garden before and we don't have any money to spend on it. So The Thrifty Gardener is exactly the kind of companion we need. This book won't sit on a shelf. It's gonna be well used. I know this already. 

The Thrifty Gardener is a well-designed book.
You can probably get it second hand as it was published in 2008. 

Guardian columnist Alys Fowler takes you through the different steps you need to take to create the kind of garden you want. Whether it's pruning trees or propagating plants, everything seems to be perfectly achievable with no previous experience, as long as you follow a few rules. Money is not an issue. You can grow a chilli plant from seed and an avocado plant using a pit. No excuse. 

I bought three seedlings (chilli plant, tomato plant and butternut squash)
 from Queen's Park farmers' market yesterday (£3!) 

The Thrifty Gardener is very appealing to zero waste advocates. Alys Fowler is all for using repurposed containers, making flower boxes with reclaimed material and bargain hunting for plants in garden centres. There's also a section on how to grow a garden if you are renting. The chapter on house plants is also very good. You can get a lot of pleasure for keeping plants indoors but you can't expect them to do well with very little/no attention (note to myself!). They need repotting every year (yes, they do!). 

Two of my house plants.
I gave a bit of  tender loving care to the spider plant last week.

We've started making our own compost less than a month ago. So, as soon as I laid my hands on The Thrifty Gardener,  I've delved into the section dedicated to compost. Without any good compost, growing any kind of plants is impossible. Making good compost is like baking a cake, write Alys. You need to follow a recipe. All the rules are laid out very clearly by the British gardener. She also explains how to build your own compost bin and your own worm box. Get your tools ready!

One of our two compost bins.
They were a (very useful) Christmas present from my parents-in-law.

"When you grow your own vegetables, make your own teas or recycle your kitchen waste in a bin that you made, you are taking control", Alys Fowler writes in the preamble to the Thrifty Gardener. I say amen to this. I never thought that scrapping my vegetable peelings and fruit skins into a compost bin in my garden would fill with joy. But it does. As for growing vegetables, well, give me a few months...

For more information:
The Thrifty Gardener, How to create a stylish garden with next to nothing, by Alys Fowler, published by Kyle Books
Alys Fowler on Twitter: @AlysFowler