ZERO WASTE REVIEW: Products to make washing up less of a chore!

As a family of four, plus being a childminder who works from home, we do a lot of washing up (well, I say ‘we’ when I actually mean my mother mainly!) Up until recently we would buy multipacks of cheap sponges, which were used for a week or so before throwing away, but as these are made from plastic and will never fully degrade, I was keen to find alternatives; below are my thoughts on two products designed to replace these plastic washing up sponges

Safix Scrub Pad from Hereford Eco Products

Made from coconut fibres held together with natural latex, this pad is fully compostable and biodegradable at the end of its serviceable life, as it contains no plastic whatsoever

Because of the rough texture, it is especially useful for the heavy duty washing up, such as frying pans and saucepans where the food has baked on. I will admit that I did worry for the surface of my frying pan before I used this; initially it feels quite rough to the touch, but three months down the line, and my frying pans are as smooth as ever, and the pad has softened up a little too

We are still using our original scrub pad, where we would have used and thrown away at least six sponges in the same time span. A few of the coconut fibres have worked loose over that time, but the product is still perfectly usable, and will be for some time

I tend to soak the pad once a month in diluted apple cider vinegar for an extra deep clean, but as long as you rinse the pad after use and leave to dry, it will still last a long time

Another added bonus is that it is good for scrubbing potatoes from the garden before peeling them; that brought back fond memories of my childhood cleaning the spuds for Sunday lunch in my nan’s kitchen!

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Washing Up Brush from Boobalou

Another blast from the past with this one, as I remember my mum using a washing up brush when I was a child, but that was plastic with plastics bristles. This washing up brush has a beech wood handle and bristles made of Tampico fibres; Tampico is derived from the yellow leaf of the agave cactus and is useful for this purpose because it retains water, is robust and hard-wearing and keeps its shape. Because the bristles are plant-based, they are 100% biodegradable

The brush is perfect for general cleaning of plates, bowls and cups; the bristles aren’t so hard that they scratch the surfaces of the crockery, while the small head means that the brush can get into the hard to reach corners of mugs with ease

The brush does take a while to dry out in between uses; ours doesn’t dry out in the day but does overnight. The metal loop at the end of the handle is useful to hang up the brush to dry in between uses

Replacement heads are available; there is a knack to removing the old head (lots of wiggling involved to loosen the metal holding the head on!) but once you know what you’re doing, it’s simple enough to do a second time. It’s also good to know that the head isn’t just going to fall off randomly too! The video here is useful to watch to help you too

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Summary

We are very pleased with our replacements for washing up sponges; each product fulfils a slightly different use, and therefore we will continue to use both. The key test for anything related to washing up in our house is whether they pass my mother’s seal of approval… and they do; she is will be replacing her washing up sponges with these products, so there is no higher praise than that in my eyes!

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A letter to our friends and family: please no ‘stuff’ this Christmas

Firstly, I do want to say how grateful we are that people want to buy our kids (and us!) gifts at Christmas; we are lucky to have such generous friends and family! This post is not meant to sound ungrateful or like we’re preaching to you, but we would like to share with you some of the changes we have made this year, and how you, our friends and family, can help to support us with those changes

We have now reached a stage in our life where we have so much ‘stuff’ that we don’t actually need, and Christmas adds more to the pile. This year we have decluttered a LOT (even Paul has got involved with this one, and cleared the loft space a little!) got rid of excess furniture, knick-knacks, duplicate toys and household items which we used once years ago and then never again (who needs a salad spinner, really?!)

We are now reaching a stage where everything in our house falls into two categories; useful or sentimental. The rest is expendable

And this is where YOU come in, our friends and family. We don’t need more stuff to fill the gaps we have created in our home this year and will NOT be offended if you don’t get us anything at all! What we do want is time together as a family, so if you want to get us anything, could you consider popping a fiver in an envelope which we can put towards family days out throughout the year. For example, last July we took the kids on the train to London to see Uncle David, and would love to do the same again this year

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Due to the nature of my job, we have loads of toys already, so there are very few things we actually need; but if you REALLY feel that you want to buy the kids something to open, we have a list of a few select toys at Wise Owl Toys (ask behind the counter for the list) Some of these won’t be used immediately for our kids, but I plan ahead for the whole year. For instance, we have just cracked open the See & Spell that was bought for Thomas’s third birthday as he is just learning to read at preschool; so even if the items seem too advanced for our kids currently, they will get full use when the time comes!

We are also trying to reduce our waste this year, particularly plastic waste; we have introduced reusable straws, reusable cups and beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm into our household. We also utilise the new zero waste shop that has opened in Worcester, buying plastic-free deodorant, refilling containers instead of buying new and continuing to use reusable nappies, wipes and (me personally) CSP

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Christmas adds a lot of unnecessary waste to our house including foil wrapping paper that can’t be recycled. So, would you consider using brown paper to wrap? It is cheap to buy, and we will reuse it is possible, recycle if necessary. You can even get the kids to decorate it for a personal touch! Or could you reuse those gift bags from last year, make labels from old cards and consider homemade gifts for other people where they would be appreciated?

I understand that our lifestyle changes aren’t to everyone’s taste, but we would love it if you could join us in making our Christmas a sustainable one

Merry Christmas everyone!

Making Apple Cider Vinegar: Part 1

ShampooI use shampoo bars, which can sometimes leave my hair feeling waxy if not rinsed out thoroughly; this can make my hair feel heavy and look lacklustre. An apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse works wonders to remove any waxy residue left behind after rinsing, but I wanted to find a more sustainable source than buying glass bottles of the stuff every month from the supermarket

As my husband’s boss has a small orchard, we get given a LOT of windfall apples every autumn, and I make a lot of apple cake (Mary Berry’s Apple & Cinnamon Cake, if anyone wants to make their own) But the cores and peel generally go straight into the composter, which seems rather wasteful… Cue a spot of Googling and I found a very simple and easy-to-follow recipe from Tales of a Kitchen which you can find here

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As I use the windfall apples up in small batches, and only had a 2L Kilner jar to make the ACV in, I froze the cores and peel in a 2L tub until full. You might prefer to make smaller batches more often, so you have a more regular but smaller supply of ACV every couple of weeks, but as this is my first time, I’m going to put all of my eggs into one basket! Plus, you need a wide mouth jar, and I don’t have many of those lying around that aren’t already in use

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Anyway, onto the actual making… My first tip: cut the apple cores into smaller pieces BEFORE freezing, else they are very difficult to saw up. But once they are in smaller pieces, simply stuff into the jar, trying to fill all of the spaces. It would probably be easier to squish the apples down more if they have defrosted, but I was far too impatient to do that; or not organised enough to remove from the freezer earlier in the day… You decide which!

Once the apples are crammed into the jar, dissolve a couple of teaspoons of sugar in some water – as I was using more apples than the recipe above, I used heaped teaspoons of sugar – and pour over the apples; I recommend doing this SLOWLY otherwise the sugar water splashes out. Then top up with more water until the apples are covered. I boiled the water and then cooled it before adding to the jar as I do not have a water filter

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The final stage is to cover the mouth of the jar with a muslin and secure it before storing in a dark cupboard for a couple of weeks. I also dated the jar with today’s date in case I do decide to make another batch before this one has finished fermenting, to differentiate them

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I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on my ACV over the coming week, stirring it occasionally, watching for the bubbles that show that fermentation is happening and searching for a white foam at the top – any other colour of ‘scum’ is not good, apparently!

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I will keep you updated with the progress of my ACV as the weeks go on; I’ll be honest, I’m expecting a few pitfalls along the way… Wish me luck!

REVIEW: Reusable Nappies – EcoBebe All-in-Two Nappy

The EcoBebe nappy (right hand side in the photo below) is designed to fit from 7lb 7oz on the smallest setting up to 33lb on the largest, although if you do have a larger toddler I would be wary that it might not last up until that maximum weight, especially in comparison to the EcoPipo (left hand side in the photo below) which is definitely more generous in size.

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I was a tad sceptical when I saw the EcoBebe nappy; it looked a LOT smaller than the EcoPipo pockets I was already using on my youngest, and I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t going to fit her… But it did! She is on the largest setting at just over two years of age, and 50th centile for weight (I can’t remember what she actually weighs though, classic second child problem!)

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The fit is very trim, and a lot less bulky than EcoPipo pockets, partially aided by the insert. EcoPipo pockets come with one long trifold (bamboo and microfibre) which folds into three, whereas the EcoBebe insert only folds into two; it comprises of one long microfibre insert with a cotton velour outer on one side and a microfleece outer on the other for a choice of material to put next to the skin. As the insert folds over to fit into the wrap, it also unfolds for faster drying, which is a definite bonus in the torrential rain we are currently experiencing

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The insert fits comfortably into the cover, and I have also added an extra EcoPipo bamboo insert for extra peace of mind on occasion; I was unsure if this would compromise the fit of the nappy, but the double gusset at the leg means that there is no gapping once the nappy is fitted correctly

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One slight issue I do have is the proximity of the snaps to the edge of the tab; this can make it tricky to undo the nappy when changing, as there isn’t any material to grab onto, but I am unsure if this is just my particular nappy, or true for all products

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Overall, we are very happy with our EcoBebe nappy; the trim fit is great for an active toddler, and absorbency can easily be customised to suit without gaps and leaks occurring

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***ALL VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS BLOG POST ARE MY OWN***

Reusable Wipes: The Bottom Line

We started using reusable wipes when my eldest was around three months old; they have served us well for over 3.5 years, and two children. As a mum of two, and childminder of more than two, they have become an invaluable part of our household. Here are a few reasons why…

1. Fewer wipes used each nappy change

Because reusable wipes are made from materials such as cotton and bamboo, they are grippier than disposable wipes, which have a tendency to slide and smear.

As a childminder, I use both reusable and disposable wipes regularly, and while the maximum number of reusable wipes I have used in any single nappy change stands at three, I have needed over double that amount of disposable wipes on more than one occasion!

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2. Easy to use at home

Everyone has their nappy changing station set up slightly differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Personally, we have them all stored in a tub already wet, so we can just grab and use; other parents store dry and wet under the tap at each change.

Once used, you can throw into the nappy bag or bucket if using reusable nappies too, or the Cheeky Wipes system includes a Mucky Box to store dirty wipes until wash day. Depending on whether your washing machine eats small items, a mesh bag can be useful to stop your wipes going AWOL during washing…

3. Easy to use when out and about

Again, everyone has their own system for this. We have a small wet bag into which we put a few damp reusable wipes; once used they go into the larger wet bag with dirty nappies.

If you prefer to keep your wipes dry until use, a small bottle of water can be carried with them and used to dampen them before use.

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4. Cheaper in the long run

Thirty reusable wipes can cost up to £30 if bought new, depending on where you buy; buying preloved brings the cost down further, and making your own out of items in your home will reduce the cost even more, perhaps even costing you nothing but the time to make them.

Compare this to even the cheapest disposable wipes. On a conservative estimate of a pack per week for 2.5 years, which is the average age of toilet training, Aldi wipes (0.49p per pack) will cost you £63.70 [I use Aldi as a comparison as they were the cheapest I could find online!]

5. Reducing landfill and fatbergs

Disposable wipes are made of a mixture of materials, including plastics; this means they will never break down fully. Disposable wipes should NEVER be flushed (even if labelled as such) though too many sadly are, becoming a massive contributor to fatbergs (read more here on these)

Reusable wipes are made of biodegradable materials which will break down over time. You can re-purpose your reusable wipes once your children no longer need them for general cleaning or even family cloth, or sell on to recoup some of your costs.

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6. No chemicals (other than water, water is a chemical after all!)

Since reusable wipes are soaked in whatever you choose, water being the cheapest and easiest option. Some soak in chamomile tea, or melt coconut oil in hot water, but plain old-fashioned H2O is good enough for us!

Disposable wipes contain a lot more chemicals, including preservatives, alcohols and fragrances, some of which have been linked to eczema and allergies. You can read more in a Which report here.

Do you use reusable wipes already? What extra uses do you have for them?!
Or, perhaps you haven’t taken the plunge yet… Hopefully now you can see how easy it can be!
Share your experiences with me…

REVIEW: Beeswax Wraps from Delilah & the Moon

Plastic Free July was a bit of a struggle for me; we already do most of the more mainstream plastic-free alternatives, including shampoo bars, reusable bottles, reusable straws, CSP, reusable nappies and wipes, so finding something different was a challenge. Then I spotted that a local company called Delilah & the Moon made beeswax wraps and I just had to give them a go; we have a dalek called Delilah, so it seemed appropriate.

Picking the fabrics was the hardest part of the process; so many to choose from! Thomas picked superheroes for his sandwiches, Katherine chose rainbows and bees seemed appropriate considering. I ordered a range of sizes so that I could experiment with different uses, and my order was ready to be collected in just over a week, along with full instructions for use and care.

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We have had the wraps nearly a fortnight now, and they are easy to use in everyday life. The bee wrap has been commandeered for cheese, and we find that we don’t get the white patches on it now. You can also take it to your local supermarket deli and get the cheese wrapped in it straight away; I’ll admit I got funny looks when I asked for it, but it’s all about making these options mainstream!

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We took sandwiches for the kids to a picnic yesterday wrapped in their chosen designs; no dried-out bread, and nothing to put in the bin at the end. The smaller sizes are fab for covering jars and bowls with leftovers, rather than throw-away clingfilm or foil. Simply heat the wax slightly using the warmth of your hands and it will adhere to the bowl or jar.

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The part that worried me most was washing them, as I was afraid of melting the wax out again, but the instructions that came with the wraps were clear and easy to follow (even for me!) and while I have yet to reset them, again the instructions are clear and simple, and the baking paper required is even provided.

Overall, I am very pleased with these, and have even been inspired me to try and make my own in the near future, but that will be a whole other post by itself!