‘Disposable’ and ‘convenient’ are recent concepts and are pretty much causing all the trouble on the planet.
My friend Charlene, who is on a journey approaching zero waste, and I, held an A-Z workshop at the gorgeous Hedge Shed in Nottingham Road last weekend. We hoped to inspire participants to reduce plastic waste, embrace Midlands abundance and add eco-magic to their lives.
We don’t have all the answers, but we are excited by the extraordinary opportunities to be part of rethinking our world. Business UNusual is what we want!
Generally explained as reducing human impact on the ecological systems of the planet, starting with one human in particular – you. Consumers need to slow down, stop shopping and start living. Manufacturers make short-lived goods because we buy them. We’ve been fooled into increasingly rapid loops of planned obsolescence by clever marketing, but we can change that. Just start today:
- Become more mindful about the small choices you make throughout any given day about how they may impact on the environment. Biomindfulness.
- Calculate your ecological footprint. Not only does reducing your carbon footprint improve your quality of life – improving your quality of life reduces your carbon footprint.
What can you change to make the most impact in your household?
Straws are trendy right now, but probably how you buy your milk will have a greater effect on reducing your waste than buying stainless steel straws. Glass jars or buckets that are refilled weekly from the farm are ideal and we are fortunate in the midlands that this is a possibility. Tatsfield dairy support low waste and are super ethical too, or try Wana Farm in Dargle or Graceland in Hilton. Sharon Barnesly also supplies raw milk directly from her two cows when she has excess.
Maybe you can’t buy in bulk or recycle where you live. There is not one way to zero waste (and it’s virtually impossible). Be mindful about your choices – the point is to make LESS trash. Charlene found that her son’s favourite snack Mini Cheddars created too much non-recycleable packaging, so she now makes a bit batch of crunchy cheesey snacks once a week instead. Bonus – they are healthier too!
Cheesy Mini Crackers:
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 4 Tsp butter
- ½ cup flour
- Salt to taste
- Paprika (optional)
- 1 Tsp ice cold water
Rub the cheese into the butter, slowly add the flour and salt, then the water. Squash into a dough and roll into a ball. Cut ball into quarters and roll out one quarter on a well-floured surface until it is about 2-3mm thick. Use a pizza cutter to slice into squares about 1x1cm. Bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes.
“A zero waste lifestyle goes beyond trash. It is a story about what we truly value.” Andrea Saunders Be Zero
Be Brave. Just Ask.
People are more generous than you might think. No need for everyone to have everything. Swop frocks, socks, hats & handbags with your friends.
Who belongs to the local Library? Wouldn’t we love a tool library? Embrace resourcefulness, thriftiness, flexibility, ingenuity, community.
C COSMETICS and CLEANING
Who’s who of local lusciousness.
Locally produced, ethically sourced, handmade – we are fortunate to have ESSE, pro-biotic, organic cosmetics and Rondavel soap in the KZN Midlands. South African biodegradable and probiotic cleaning brands include Earth Sap, African Organics, NuEco, Probac, Bio Chem and are often available to buy in bulk. However if you want to avaoid the packaging altogether, you could use common kitchen ingredients instead.
- Remove tea and coffee stains from mugs by rubbing with a little salt
- Polish wood with a mixture of 2parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice
- Clean windows with vinegar & water
- Scrub your bath with bi-carb & lemon juice
- Stuff wet shoes with newspaper to dry out (Christeen’s tip) and dry tea bags to freshen (Lucinda’s tip)
- Tinks told us she uses 2 cups of bicarb and 1/2 cup of vinegar in her washing machine to keep her white towels clean.
- Steep fresh orange peels in water for a fragrant spray.
Gut health is the buzz word right now – many ailments are due to not co-existing with ‘friendly’ bacteria. Pro-biotic skin care is all the rage too. What about beneficial bacteria in other areas of our home? ProBac uses ‘Beneficial Bacteria’ to actively biodegrade dirt in the process of cleaning, eliminating chemical and dirt transfer to the environment. Bio Chem does the same. The biodegradable label is readily available in supermarkets, but biodegradable cleaning chemicals are often only biodegradable under perfect Ph neutral laboratory conditions. These perfect conditions are rarely, if ever, available in the variable environments that these chemicals are flushed into.
Oh, don’t forget to get a bamboo toothbrush.
Planet friendly pets
Pets are one of the largest marine predators! A USA study found pets have the same environmental impact at 13 million cars.
Homemade with love from good ingredients, with low food miles, has got to be better. Buy dry ingredients in bulk, in season vegetables from markets and ethically produced eggs and meat (Zulu Waters, The Aloes, Enaleni ). Treats and commercial food often include lots of corn and soya (with dreadful eco-footprints). The internet abounds with recipes for oat biscuits, liver bites and raw food diets. Explore.
Do your dogs really love all those plastic toys? Try knotted rope to tug on, a peanut butter jar with a metal bell inside, food puzzles (hide their food or give them hard boiled eggs in the shell to peel themselves). Buttons and beads sewn onto a piece of scrap fabric, or a length of elastic with feathers attached, will keep cats entertained for outs. Nothing beats a good old, carbon neutral walk for entertainment – and that is good for you too!
The New Bin
Ecobricks are the current cool way to handle all those odd bits you can’t recycle – chocolate wrappers and crisp packets, plastic packets that crackle, often polystyrene, old photos, video tape, clothes labels, till slips, clingfilm.
We discussed the problem of people not reducing their waste because they were making ecobricks, of how the plastic bottle will degrade over time and whether ecobricks are an environmentally friendly solution. We agreed that if they simply mean some school environments and streets are clear of litter and are put to use building benches, veggie gardens and classrooms, then that is a win. It’s an imperfect world.
Ideally you should use your own bricks for a project in your home, but the EcoBrick Exchange and Mpophomeni WiFi bench projects can make use of them too.
When you buy something from a local producer an actual person does a little dance.
Its great to get to know your farmer. The best place is at a farmers market and there are plenty to try – Maritzburg Market, Karkloof Farmers Market, Shongweni, Green Camp – Glenwood in Durban, Dargle Country Market, Peters Gate Country Market, Curry’s Post Country Market.
Eating local increases chances of eating seasonally. Food is fresher, often cheaper. Buying local produce means you automatically get the best in the area and contribute to community and environment. Vote with your fork!
Pavement vendors often source their produce directly from farmers when something is abundant – like cherries, peas or peaches, so good deals to be had. At the same time you make sure that your money makes a difference in a real person’s life, rather than just becoming a dividend for shareholders.
G GOOD, CLEAN, FAIR
The Slow Food Movement
Slow Food envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet. Good, Clean and Fair.
- Good. Flavour and aroma – show cases the competence of the producer, the choice of raw materials and production methods.
- Clean. Environmental respect and sustainable, humane practices are taken seriously, to protect ecosystems and biodiversity.
- Fair. Social justice through respectful conditions, the pursuit of balanced global economies and respect for cultural diversities and traditions.
Currently, we are growing the Slow Food movement in KZN. Keen to find out more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Living lightly and locally is joyful and abundant
No point getting grumpy. No one is perfect, we are all on the path to improvement. However, living lightly and locally (walking and cycling more, eating better, socialising) is actually good for you.
Curiously, people seem to get happier when they escape the never ending consuming treadmill. It is very empowering, and you can start with relatively small changes. If enough people change the way they live, it can make a real difference. Eventually we should be able to satisfy our needs from small-scale, local production based on renewable resources, which can actually provide more jobs, job satisfaction and improve people’s quality of life.
Research has shown that these are the top three happiness generators: reusable drinks containers, renewable packaging, buying only what you need. My personal favourite is using cloth produce bags at the shops – the person doing the weighing and the checkout lady always comment on how pretty they are – and occasionally someone mentions the fact that we should stop using plastic. Bonus!
Nicole just loves taking her own coffee mug for refills “I thought it would be a schlep, but it’s not.” Charlene and her family enjoy filling their own container with coffee beans at Steampunk Coffee “Darwin loves pressing the buttons on the dispenser and weighing machine!”
Act as if what you do makes a difference.
We are all in this together and it helps to keep connected with other people who are also determined to live as lightly as possible. There is no point in getting cross about your neighbour who leaves outdoor lights on all night or washes his driveway with a hosepipe. Changing the whole world is quite a daunting task, so concentrate instead on what you can do, follow others who are a couple of steps ahead. Lead by example. Before you know it, YOU will be inspiring others.
Social media feeds we love include: @bezerowastegirl @cultivateconscousliving @fashionrevolution @lifecanbeadreamsweetheart @veldkos @veld@sea @mnandimpop @approachingzerowaste and Zero Waste Nerd
J JARS AND JUNK
Which is worse? Glass, Cans or Plastic Bottles
If you have to buy something packaged, what do you choose? How about unwrapping and leaving packaging at the till for the store to deal with (make a statement).
Otherwise, we reckon glass is the best option. 90% of glass collected can be recycled and re-making it uses less energy than making it from scratch. We do wonder why bottles are not re-used more though? Some commercial beer bottles are.
Aluminium is the next best as it is endlessly recycled into new aluminium. However, one does need to consider the initial mining and that makes the footprint pretty dreadful. Also beware of combination cans.
Plastic – only containers numbered 1, 2, 4 and 5 are currently recyclable in the Midlands – everything else is not.
Buy in bulk. Spectrum Wholesalers in Howick and Murchisons in Durban have lots of produce in bulk. If you haven’t got space for 5kg of rice – share the purchase with friends.
You will need to make space. Glass jars, buckets and the freezer are the most convenient. Charity shops often sell screw top Consol jars (made in SA) very cheaply. Vintage stores have lovely cake tins and other containers that might do the trick. Plastic buckets work very well and are inexpensive.
It is not a competition! Do what you can. Start conversations and build community.
Stuff to cart about on adventures
Focus on durable, adaptable, functional items rather than gimmicks.
My kit includes: vintage melamine picnic cup (for fresh juices or tea), water bottle, snacks – sunflower seeds, nuts and dried tomatoes in screw top spice tins, clip lock containers for take away samosas, burgers, brownies or pecan pie at the market, draw-string produce bags, cloth shopping bags, a damp facecloth in a plastic container or pouch.
Charlene’s kit includes: coffee cups, re-usable steel straws, soft fabric squares and a spray bottle filled with water (for wiping sticky faces, fingers and bottoms), small screw top containers for portions of yoghurt and other snacks, a glass bottle with a straw for her son, cutlery, chopsticks, water bottle, produce bags, cloth shopping bags, a patchwork changing mat, a waterproof bag for used nappy liners.
Lauren and Kelley of EcoBoks, joined our workshop. They are putting together awesome eco-kits, so you don’t have to bother. Check out EcoBoks.
Keen to join the hipsters? Local markets are a good place to start your locavore mission if your usual greengrocer doesn’t know where his lettuces come from. You’ll get to know the farmers and producers of goat’s cheese, real free range eggs, organic vegetables, pasta, cordial and mushrooms and help make their businesses more sustainable, adding to food security in our community. Quite likely these are the less expensive options, so you’ll save money while you save the planet.
Much of our supermarket food is shipped from far away, generating ‘food miles’ which add to your ecological foot print – quite unnecessary in the abundant KZN Midlands. Making meals a celebration of local, seasonal food, is one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact. Of course, you could always grow some of your own food – it doesn’t get more local than your back yard. Start with easy things like lettuce, spinach, spring onions and parsley.
How local is local? South Africa? KZN? 100miles? 25kms? Local means different things to different people. Barbara Kingsolver defined it as a 100 mile radius in her famous book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Usually, local defines a geographic area or bio-region with similar climate, soil, watershed, species and agri-systems.
Slow Money includes shopping locally, selling locally, working locally and growing as much of our own food you can. Think of this: if we spend R100 at Dovehouse to purchase fruit and veggies grown locally, most of that R100 stays in the Midlands community. Of course, it will leak out with electricity and fuel but on the whole it stays and circulates. The slower the money leaks out the more sustainable the community.
KZN is bursting with producers of great Cheese, Eggs, Meat, Ice Cream, Yoghurt, Flour, Pasta, Essential Oils, Soap, Beverages, Fruit, Nuts, Vegetables and Fish. I tried many of them during my three week Eat Local challenge –
When you are going out for a treat, eat at locally owned restaurants rather than chains to help your cash keep circulating nearby.
M MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS
You may use 14 000 pads or tampons in your lifetime
Our rivers and oceans are in serious trouble – polluted by plastic waste and other toxic effluent. A major cause of blockages in sewerage systems is discarded pads and tampons. Reusable menstrual cups and washable pads are alternatives that offer you an effective way to contribute to the wellbeing of our planet – every month. See Pink for more info on where to source these locally produced products. Or Hannah Pad.
An idea that doesn’t stink
One baby may use 7000 disposable nappies in 3 years! Disposable nappies are one of the worst culprits causing environmental damage.
While cloth nappies may look like an expensive option (R3500 for a full set to last 3 years), when you work it out you could spend R28 000 over the same period on disposables! Stacey brought along some beautiful examples and we all agreed they look a whole lot nicer than disposables. Charlene shared her experience of them being so easy to use, especially how hanging the liners out in the sun to dry after washing aided the cleaning process.
Try these suppliers – made in SA:
- Pokkelokkie hemp nappies (completely eco-friendly materials, NO PLASTIC – even in the covers)
- Mother Nature Nappies
- Kylie Co
O ORANGES AND OTHER FRUIT
Seasons are shorter than the impression given by supermarkets.
When local strawberries, dragonfruit, persimmons, Catawba grapes, gooseberries, blueberries, apples, naartjies, tree tomatoes, cherry guavas, peaches, plums, prickly pears, oranges or raspberries appear in organic stores, roadside stalls or markets, it is time to celebrate. Feast while you can! There is always some local fruit available – if you look you will be amazed.
Beware of super foods. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds. Besides the massive amounts of water they use, millions of honeybees are transported to California to pollinate them. Locally farmed macadamia nuts contain higher amounts of monounsaturated fat than almonds. Goji berries from China? Gram for gram there is twice the beta-carotene in a carrot than in goji berries!
Get creative – replace almonds with macadamias, try sunflower seeds pounded with nasturtium leaves, or abundant pecan nuts for a parsley or spinach pesto.
P PICNICS and PARTIES
Stylish, delicious ideas that won’t cost the planet
Plan recipes with what is in season. Astonish your friends by finding a local cocktail, serve finger food to avoid plastic cutlery, use garden flowers or make paper ones, folded paper cups, do you really need to serve imported capers? Use beautiful crockery, glassware and cutlery from antique or second hand shops.
Gifts: Scour charity stores for fabulous finds for kids and grownups too. Support the guy down the road who is making tea trays or soup bowls, rather than the big stores. Shop at craft markets for individually created items made with love. Everyone needs to get their hair cut or car tuned, give vouchers for services nearby and experiences (craft lessons) and boost your community economy.
Wrap gifts without impossible-to-recycle sticky tape – use ribbons and string. Pretty dishcloths are perfect wrappers. Try your hand at the Japanese art of fabric wrapping – Furoshiki. Watch this simple video guide to zero waste wrapping.
Charlene’s husband makes great home brewed beer
This is as low as you can go on the recycling scale – using bottles over and over again. If you aren’t making your own elderflower champagne, or rum (and plenty of people are), we are fortunate in the KZN Midlands to have Rawdons Gin, Nottingham Road and Lions River Breweries, Inhlosane Brew, Clockwork Brew, Highgate and Abingdon Wines. There are many producers of Kombucha locally and Thirsty Elephant makes interesting cordials.
Tip for avoiding packaging when you go out – drink draft in pubs or tap water.
Turn those abundant seasonal things into cordials – elder flower, mint, grapefruit, lemon, tree tomatoes. A basic cordial recipe is 600ml each of fruit juice/water/sugar. Heat, strain, bottle.
Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Repair, Rot, Recycle
So little of what we believe is recycled, is – much goes to landfill or is incinerated. Recycling should be your last resort – try everything else first. Things to absolutely avoid or buy very seldom – crunchy plastic, cling wrap, polystyrene.
You could collect useful items for your local school and drop them off – well washed with soap! Singakwenza at Rotunda would like the following:
- Bread bags and tags
- Plastic bottle tops (milk, coke, water)
- 1 litre yoghurt containers with lids
- Cereal boxes (flattened)
- Plastic Milo, Hot Choc and Nesquik containers
- Plastic lids from jars (honey, peanut butter)
- 2 and 5 litre ice-cream tubs with lids
- Cardboard paper towel/foil inners
- Magazines (food, garden, wildlife, motoring)
- A4 scrap paper
The Annual Trashion Show (9 June 2018 11 am Howick Agricultural Hall) encourages learners to use waste for creative projects rather than new materials, and it is completely inspiring! Don’t miss it.
S SECOND HAND
Step out in Style with H.O. Spice
Are you sure you can’t find a pre-owned whatever it is that you think you need? Pre-owned stuff is pretty cool and probably has a curious story to tell, too. Scouring second hand stores is great fun. So is mending – if you make it a little wild.
Recycle stuff – Perfectly good t-shirts can be rescued, given a bit of love and crazy embroidery to make them better, highly individual and extremely covetable. A new t-shirt produces 4 to 6 kgs of Co2 during manufacture, so by extending the life of those already on Earth, we can save tons. It takes 10 500l of water to make a new pair of jeans.
Hospice and SPCA charity shops are full of treasures and we have an abundance of antique shops to explore. People’s Choice (Mooi River), bend down boutiques (everywhere), Clothesaholic (Merrivale), Patchwood Elephant (Tweedie), Bonnie and Clyde (Green Camp, Umbilo), Knock Knock (Durban). What’s your favourite?
Barter, Exchange, Swop, Share
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the speed and chaos of modern life and are searching for a slower, more considered and mindful way of living. While we may have plenty of money, often we don’t have a strong and caring community. Small, local groups have simply got going, creating an antidote to the fast life and gathering like-minded folk along the way. The Midlands Barter Markets are quite magical – Hilton, Rosetta, Howick, Dargle.
The actual monetary value does not always matter – a bunch of fresh mint for a designer blouse – why not? While some are a little sceptical about the bartering concept, they soon get the hang of it and love the fact that one goes home with a basket full of goodies without spending a cent. If both parties in the exchange are happy, then everyone wins!
Our local barter groups epitomise acting locally, thinking globally. Small, simple actions, like baking bread, can make a significant difference to our immediate environment and the planet. If enough of us participate, we really can create a new and better way of life – away from rampant commercialism towards working, playing and living better.
Learn more about Midlands Barter Markets
You can make a difference.
Low impact living is good for your health, your pocket, your family, community and the environment. Never doubt your impact. Lead by example. You may inspire your neighbour. Celebrate and reward your successes. Share them!
RICHARD HEINBERG – Post Carbon Institute “While we must also act in our individual lives and as national/global citizens, building community resilience is our greatest means of mitigating and adapting to the 21st century’s sustainability crises.”
Seasonal. Local. Wonky. Wild.
Eating in-season fruit and vegetables makes good sense on many levels. Mnandi a Taste of Mpophomeni is crammed with ideas and inspiration for locally grown food.
Always pick the odd shapes – they taste just as good. Supermarkets insist on conformity which means tonnes of good food has to be discarded by farmers.
Forage for free food. Many weeds are nutritious and delicious (chickweed, pepperweed, purslane, amaranthus, msobo, ijikijolo). Often fruit trees simply drop their fruit – so ask if they are on private property – most people will be so happy with the help using up the excess. Verge gardens are popping up all over – so you can help yourself to susus, cherry tomatoes or kale. Why not start a share garden on the roadside outside your home?
Grow your own. Picking fresh greens just outside your kitchen door is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Of course, the fresher your food, the more nutritious it is too.
- Start Small – a few pots or a door sized bed are good to begin with.
- Plant things that you like eating – salads, spinach and pumpkins are easy.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Cover the ground between your plants with straw or leaves or newspaper to keep the soil moist and cool and help insects do their work.
- Be gentle with earthworms, they do so much work for free.
- Make friends with manure – if you can get your hands on some, you are lucky indeed.
- Plant lots of Comfrey if you have the space – it has so many uses.
- Mix veggies into your indigenous flower garden and vice versa
- Grow climbing beans up fences and around your garage
- Recycle weeds as weed tea to fertilize your plants
- Share your harvest with friends and neighbours
- Spend some quiet time in the garden watching the butterflies
- Save seeds for the next season
W WAX WRAP
Waste isn’t waste until we waste it.
Clingfilm is un-recyclable and bad for your health to boot. During our workshop everyone got to make their own reusable wax wrap.
- Cut any cloth (cotton best, synthetic fabrics are affected by heat) to the size you need.
- Grate beeswax on to it, cover the surface as best you can.
- Sprinkle Jojoba oil over the surface.
- Place another piece of cloth on top.
- Iron (on cotton setting) until you can see the oil seeping through to the cloth that’s on top.
- Peel apart whilst still hot (iron a little more if they stick together) and hang up to dry.
Wrap around bowls, half-cut fruit, vegetables or onions, or over plates of food. Wash in water with a little soap. If crinkles appear with extended use, just iron again.
Read that label.
Find out what the ingredients are and why we should or shouldn’t use them. Are they imported? Is there a local version? Packaged in SA usually means made somewhere else. Compare ice cream labels, then leave them in the store fridge and try Steve’s ice cream at Karkloof Country Club instead.
Many packaged products contain cheaply produced palm oil that is destroying rain forests and orangutan habitat to make way for palm plantations. Give palm oil a miss. There are lots of sneaky names for palm oil, like:
- Palmitic acid
- Palmitoyl oxosteramide
- Potassium Cetyl Phosphate
- Learn more here
Y WHY IS IT HARD?
How to handle husbands and overcome obstacles on your journey.
It can be hard when one person in the family decides to go local or zero-waste and it impacts on others who may actually be doing the shopping or cooking. For this reason we suggest one step at a time – try not to alter current patterns too much all in one go. It takes just three weeks to develop a new habit, so anything is possible.
Can’t face another marrow?
Start a collection of interesting recipes for those things that produce like crazy when the season is right. Marrows, cherry tomatoes, pepperdews, pumpkins, sou sous, lemons and rhubarb can all be overwhelming for a short period, but there are so many ways to use them that it really is possible to eat them everyday and not get bored. Pickling is easier than you think and means your store cupboard is full of tasty treats when you don’t feel like cooking on a cold winter evening.
- Marrow inspiration
- Tomatoes: when you can’t face another fresh one, cook them and freeze in tubs or bottles. Easy to dehydrate on hot dry winter days too.
- Pickled pepperdews are a classic and so simple to make. Try roasting them too and bottling with garlic and herbs in oil.
- Pumpkin inspiration
- Sou sous are fantastic for curry, grated raw with a salad dressing, added to dog food and they ferment well for a kimchi or kraut too.
- Lemons: preserved salted lemons, lemon and vanilla cordial, limoncello, roast lemon with lentils.
We enjoyed Eidin’s Rhubarb Compote for tea, so here is the recipe:
- 1kg chopped up rhubarb
- 500 – 600g brown sugar
- Juice of one lemon
- Leave rhubarb, lemon, sugar to soak overnight
- Cook up and add other herbs and fruit to taste. Eidin used tamarillo and sage this time because they are abundant, but has used raspberry, apple and ginger before.
- Bring to the boil (don’t over cook)
- Bottle, seal.
- Keep in the freezer because low sugar content is not enough to stop it fermenting.
- Thaw and enjoy with cheese, bread, biscuits of ice cream.
So there you go. An alphabet of ideas to start your own journey to living a low waste and more local lifestyle – one step at a time.