Owen Jones talk Edinburgh

I want to be Owen Jones when I grow up.

There are flaws in my plan though, not least that I’m already a good few years older than he is…

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Last Wednesday, I had the fortune of seeing this great man speak, to a packed hall, at the Edinburgh Radical Book Fair.

If somehow Owen has slipped under your radar, then he’s an author (at the age of 30, he has written two books that patently involved reams of research before the writing even began), he’s a Guardian columnist, plus he appears regularly on the television, putting forward his views on social and political issues. He is one hard worker – oh, and I think it’s fair to describe him as left wing…

Now, although my writing tendencies on this blog veer towards sustainable issues, I am no less passionate about matters of social justice. I care deeply and fill a lot of head space worrying about poverty and inequality in the UK, while berating myself for not contributing enough towards redressing the balance.

Owen Jones is an inspiration to me. He is a do-er and an enabler. Although articulate, and smack-in-the-face intelligent, he is also unassuming, warm and personable, with a broad Northern English accent that both surprises and delights. In short, Owen makes you realise that your actions count in the fight towards a fairer society.

Owen’s focus on Wednesday – and in the most recent of his books, The Establishment – was on the most powerful people in society, and on their role in promoting wealth and privilege for themselves, while encouraging a culture of blame and envy amongst those who struggle financially.

In other words, for the most part in our nation, negative attention is diverted away from those who have influence over the distribution of wealth, and is deflected towards those who don’t. For example, efforts go in to encouraging people to judge their neighbours for claiming benefits they may be perceived not to be entitled to, for not working hard enough or for ‘stealing’ jobs they do not deserve, while others – such as those responsible for the banking crisis – escape their share of the blame for the gross inequalities in our country.

This message, whilst admirably straightforward, seems to have been lost on huge sections of the UK population, assisted by parts of the media – with the ‘strivers’ vs ‘skivers’ culture having been swallowed whole by many. Indeed, there is not enough consideration that the UK, a wealthy nation, is unable to even  feed its most vulnerable.  The growing number of Food Banks is nothing short of scandalous.

What can I do though to make a difference? I am a stay at home parent with almost full-time child care duties.  Apart from keeping myself informed about politics and talking to others about my views; donating money to what I deem to be worthy causes; and donating food to the local Food Bank, I don’t feel that I am contributing towards getting the fairer society I want. In fact, I feel that I am doing next to nothing at all.

A piece of advice from Owen was to join a political party, and through that means, take collective action. It makes sense. I have some serious thinking to do.

Interestingly, and very much in keeping with my own focus on supporting local retailers, The Radical Book Fair was hosted by Word Power Books which describes itself as Scotland’s only radical and independent book shop. The event I attended was free of charge, in the spirit of including everyone regardless of their financial status. The organiser was keen to hammer home the message that, unlike Amazon, Word Power Books pays its taxes. All good. Donations were welcomed and everyone was encouraged to buy a book.

Owen Jones stayed behind after his 90 minute talk and question session to meet attendees and sign copies of his book. He was thoroughly likeable and down to earth. Despite having a genuine ‘stage presence’, he was simply, and in the best possible way, a decent bloke on a one-to-one level. Once his work was done, he put on his jacket and rucksack and headed out of the hall, almost totally unnoticed, on his way to do a television interview. What a guy.

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Jeans mend

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of a girl which appears to have spilled over into my blog. I’m either writing regularly or, it seems, weeks pass between posts! I have been working away on a particular post that I’m not stuck on exactly, but it’s taking me a while to write it as I wish.  Maybe one day it will be ready to publish or – as with many other of my drafts – it will be consigned to the trash can. Today however, I’ve got a post about mending my jeans.

I wrote in this post ten months ago that I had a favourite pair of jeans that were threatening to tear at the knee.  Luckily for me (being on a self-imposed year of no new clothes) this threat didn’t become a reality until a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, what I should have done as soon as I knew there was a risk of a tear, was to patch the jeans from the back so that the material was supported and had a better chance of staying intact, but that’s far too sensible and organised for me…

I did however act reasonably quickly when the tears (yes two!) started to show.

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Disclaimer I have no idea if this is the standard course of action to follow for ripped jeans!

The first thing I did was to turn the jeans inside out and stitch the ends of the tears in the hope that they won’t grow any bigger. I then cut a patch of material from an old pair of leggings that was big enough to easily cover the tears.

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I used fabric glue – an impulse buy from several months ago – to stick the patch to the jeans.

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I turned the trouser leg inside out and et voila! the jeans were mended.

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I quite like the coloured fabric showing through the rip, I think it makes the jeans look individual, and, the last time I wore the jeans, I matched the hint of pink with an appropriate top. I’m probably kidding myself – I bet no one else noticed!

I’m interested to see whether the glue will stand the test of time. I washed the jeans within 48 hours of applying the glue and it was still sticking well when it came out of the washing machine. I will however confess to not following the super-simple instructions to the letter – my fault as I got distracted by something else in the middle of the mend…

I feel pretty smug about extending the life of a favourite item of clothing. The same thing happened to a different pair of jeans about two years ago and I put them in the Rag Bag without considering that I might have mended them.  I’m glad times have changed for me – I’m saving good jeans from becoming waste, and the £40 it would have cost to replace them is still in my bank account!

 

 

Day 7: Zero Waste Week 2014

It’s Day 7 already of Zero Waste Week.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

I have to admit that I’m pleased with my achievements this week. Most of my tasks didn’t take more than a mere ten minutes each, yet they were things that will make a significant difference to me, and the waste that I generate. For some reason, I’d also been procrastinating over most of them and, mentally, it feels good to have pushed forwards finally.

Today’s self-set ‘One More Thing’ task is to make my own short crust pastry. I’m sorry to report that this is something I’ve not done before. I am a fan of cooking from scratch as there are usually so many health, sustainability and cost benefits to be gained but, for some reason, I’ve not been able to face making my own pastry before. I put my reluctance down to the fact that I will have to get my hands messy and I’ve never liked that much!

The time has come to face this challenge head on. Here’s the packaging generated by a packet of pastry (which makes enough for a large quiche, for example). It’s wrapped in a grease-proof paper lining – which feels like it contains a plastic coating – and a cardboard box.

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Picture from my archives – no shop-bought pastry was used in the making of this post!

This packet of pastry costs £1.50 on the Tesco website, at the time of writing. The ingredients I need to make it myself are 200g of plain flour, 110g of butter and a pinch of salt. I estimate that I can make my own for less than 70p. I think that saving alone’s probably worth approximately 10 minutes of my time!

As in yesterday’s post, I took a break from writing this post to make my pastry. I used this recipe.

It was really simple.  I weighed out my ingredients, put the butter, flour and salt in a large bowl, as instructed, and rubbed them together with my fingers until the mixture was breadcrumb-like.  I then added the water and stirred it all together with a knife and voila! I had my pastry.

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We decided to push the boat out and make a Homity Pie (using up some of the veg box in the process – hooray!)  My other half made the filling and we put it together in super-quick time.

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I’m feeling quite pleased with myself for finally ticking this off my ‘to do’ list. Pastry is of course a great way to make food a bit more exciting when left overs are on offer. Check out this great post by Jen of My Make Do and Mend Year on how to reduce your food waste – surely she is the queen of creativity? I especially like Point 7 ‘Dead things tart-tartin’ which you can use, if you master making puff pastry!

I hope everyone’s had a good Zero Waste Week. A big thank you to Rachelle Strauss who is the brains behind this operation and has clearly been working very hard! If you are looking for more reading material and some inspiration do check out the ZWW Blog Abassadors, many of whom have been very busy this week.

What ‘One More Thing’ can you do this week to reduce your waste?

Day 6: Zero Waste Week 2014

In-Over-Out

This is a little mantra that I used very many years ago when I learned to knit.  I’m not sure how much more I remember about my knitting experiences, other than I used to enjoy it.  I couldn’t knit anything impressive, but I did lovingly create sleeping bags for my Care Bear figurines (remember those?!), made from knitted rectangles with the top portion folded over, stitched and stuffed with cotton wool!

I don’t know if I ever imagined that I’d teach my own children to knit – it’s not the first thing that occurs to you when the line on the pregnancy test turns blue! – but one of them is crazy about craft and is super-keen to learn.

Cool, I thought when the request was first made, and I popped out and picked up those cute little needles and a ball of wool. I smuggled them into the house and got them out when everyone was in bed, checking to see how far my ‘in over out’ mantra would get me.

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Not that far, it seemed.  I managed to cast-on but I think I’d done it the wrong way round – if that’s possible – and I couldn’t get started with the actual knitting. So I bought a book – a kids’ book, but it’s actually for me!

It came from Hive (a site that allows you to support your local independent book shop).  I love it as it has really simple instructions, as well as clear illustrations to help you master the craft.

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So, while sitting writing this post, I paused and opened the book, grabbed the knitting needles and got started.

Ahh, the slip knot – I’d forgotten about that.  No wonder my first attempt at knitting failed earlier.  Casting on was easy and the pictures in the book allowed me to ensure that the way I was holding and looping the wool was exactly right.  For things like this, I really appreciate fail-proof, step-by-step instructions!

Knitting a plain stitch came right back to me, but I’d forgotten how slippery the needles can be, and that you need to be careful not to split the wool, making two stitches out of the different strands… I did feel clumsy (and the few rows I knitted are definitely not the best!) but by the last one I felt like I was getting into the swing of it.

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I’ll definitely need to practise but I think I’ll enjoy knitting, and my book is full of little projects I can try out with my small child – knitted bunting anyone? :-)

Ok, so all of this is very lovely, but how does it become Zero Waste Week’s ‘One More Thing’ to help me reduce what I send to landfill? Well, it terms of my children, I hope that knitting might, at least for a while, divert them away from less sustainable crafts like hama beads and the dreaded loom bands.

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If I can brush up on my knitting skills, then perhaps one day I can knit my own socks (I’m keeping my ambitions fairly low.) This was inspired by The Snail of Happiness who left me a comment in response to my sock-mending post, telling me that she knits socks – she really has a great blog, full much sustainable lovliness, do check it out!

Making socks appeals to me. My favourite socks have always been big thick woollen ones and I love the idea of making my own in my chosen colours with the most sustainable wool I can find.  It would also allow me to save those plastic hooks and labels, that come on shop-bought socks, from landfill.

Happy knitting!
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Day 5: Zero Waste Week 2014

My ‘One More Thing’ for Zero Waste Week today is stewing plums.  This is because we’ve had plums in our veg box for the past four weeks and each week they have gone off before we’ve finished them. Sometimes we’ve thrown away several.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

Now, I got pretty good at reducing my food waste a while ago.  I have blogged often about my beloved veg box and my attempts to use it up, and show it who’s boss.  Last year’s Zero Waste Week challenge was all about food waste and I defy anyone to suggest that I shouldn’t get full marks for effort…

So what happened? Other things I suppose… Although I have done well with my food waste in the past, I can’t pretend that it’s been effortless. When I’ve got lots of energy and motivation, I work really hard to keep on top of the food that makes it over our doorstep, and ensure that I use up most of it.  Sometimes I quite enjoy it and I’ve been known to make a night of it with a couple of new recipes, a glass of wine and some music playing. It can be satisfying to work hard and stuff the freezer full of meals for the week ahead.

Often though I’m really busy and have little spare time.  When I get it, I sometimes just want to relax or need an early night.  Until very recently I’ve had full time child care responsibilities, always having at least one of my children with me all day. I feel I’m lucky to have this time with my little ones while they are small – sometimes stewing plums, mashing potatoes or working out what to do with yet another beetroot just isn’t my priority!

Today however I decided those plums were getting stewed!  I had a problem though.  I no unaccounted for time in my day… Part of the reason was because at the start of the week I arranged for the plumber to come and fix a bath tap that has been leaking and wasting water for at least…..a year!  I realised that if I was ever going to get it fixed, it had to be during Zero Waste Week. It meant though that I had to get my kitchen clean, tidy and accessible for him to work safely (and most importantly without judging me!).

This took up my 90 minutes of child-free time. I decided though that having no time just wasn’t good enough! In the name of ‘One More Thing’ those plums were getting stewed, so I washed and chopped them super-fast and let them stew while I attempted to sort the kitchen.

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When the plumber arrived, I hadn’t quite finished the dishes – some stuff including last night’s wine glass was sitting by the sink, making it look as if I’d been indulging in some afternoon drinking…  I’d also been rushing about and smashed a bottle of tomato ketchup on the floor – I really hadn’t been drinking, honest! No matter. I’d got my one more thing for the day done, and I’ve even managed to write up this post despite it being late in the day.

Even just changing the pattern of the last four weeks makes me feel more determined to try to keep on top of it. Each night I’m going to try and identify a part of the next day that I could do some food preparation, and I will even consider cancelling my veg box order on the weeks that I am busy. I’m hoping my little bit of effort today can lead to significant change in the future.

Day 4: Zero Waste Week 2014

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Yesterday’s post got me thinking about creating a sustainable, delicious and temping packed lunch.  Although it tied in nicely with my theme of low effort/high impact actions (a bit of mere thinking isn’t exactly overdoing things!), I did end up with a bit of a headache. What parent doesn’t obsess over making ensuring their child eats properly?  Happily though (as I’d hoped) two of the other Zero Waste Week Ambassadors Liz Burton and Grace Hall did cover the topic of packed lunches, and both made wonderful jobs of it – you can read Liz’s post here and Grace’s here. For lots of inspiration, check out Grace’s entire site Eats Amazing.  My headache has lifted…

Today’s task is super-easy, but will still help me to reduce my waste. It was initially going to be about darning socks but, after my efforts earlier today at darning, I’ll just say it’s about mending socks!!

As I may have mentioned several hundred times in my recent posts, I have given up buying clothes for 2014. It has been an easier challenge than expected and, to date, I’ve done a negligible amount of mending. Most of my clothes have lasted well, with the exception that is, of my socks.

To be fair many of my socks were falling apart at the beginning of the year anyway. I don’t like slippers – for some reason I instinctively kick them off around the house. I suffer from cold feet though, so I do love my socks, but I work them hard. We have old floorboards that are rough in places, and lots of these metal carpet divider things that snag socks as you walk over them.

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I have a couple of nice pairs of socks I’ve kept aside for those occasions that I visit friends who are house proud. I only have a few of these left – most succumbed to chaos during the emotional boot camp that is toilet training. I will also admit to wearing my other half’s socks at times when it’s really cold.  I’ll even confess to him encouraging me to wear his socks because some of mine are in such a state!

I reckon therefore that it’s about time I bit the bullet and mended my socks! Obviously retrieving every pair of damaged socks from my drawer and fixing them is far too much effort during my week of small tasks(!), so I found one pair that sported a nice small manageable hole and attempted to fix them this morning, during a ten minute window  that I had.

Here is the sock:

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This was purchased a number of years ago and was part of a cheap multi-pack, of dubious quality.

Before commencing my mend I read a short tutorial on darning that I found on the internet.  I then found some embroidery thread that I’d bought for a crafting activity with the kids, a needle that may or may not be a darning needle, and set to work.

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Some of you lovely people on Twitter suggested that I made a decorative feature out of my mends, thus negating the need for perfection, so I chose a bluey-green thread.  I know my children will enjoy the novelty value of this, plus I hoped it would show up better in the ‘after’ photo.  As it turned out, the photo is of poor quality anyway so I’m not sure it made a difference…

I turned the sock inside out and started stitching round the outside of the hole as suggested in the tutorial.  I think the idea is to create a strong structure that will hold the darn, but after I started I just decided that I’d stitch the hole my own way. Let’s say I was being creative, not lazy…

Here’s the finished result:

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Not a work of beauty but no hole!

The job took me about two minutes, so I feel that I can close the holes in the rest of the socks without it being a major effort. I might even go back to the tutorial and try out some darning on the nicer of my falling-to-pieces socks.

The end result is that my socks are saved from the Rag Bag and, as long as I can keep my nice ones in good condition for visits out, then I won’t need to buy any more, even when my year of no clothes has come to an end.

 

Day 3: Zero Waste Week 2014

On Day Three of Zero Waste Week I’m going to square up to an area where I could definitely reduce my waste – the packed lunch. It wasn’t always a ‘problem issue’ for me. In fact I’ve been polishing my halo for about a year on this topic…

For as long as I have known my other half, until last August, he bought his lunch at work (at his own expense) and I didn’t give it a second thought. I did the same myself when I was working, and it gave me an excuse to leave my desk as well as feeling like a treat in the middle of my busy day. However when I started looking at sustainable living, and in particular the issue of single-use plastics, I realised that the daily sandwiches my partner was consuming were causing a lot of plastic to end up in the bin.

I struck a deal with him. For £1 I would make his lunch each day, and I would use the money to buy kit such as reusable sandwich wraps and containers to ensure the food would be fresh and well-packaged. It was a no-brainer on his part, as he’d been spending £4 a day. In addition, the food I was to make would be healthier than his current fare.

A year later, I estimate that he has saved around £450 (I stopped charging £1 when the kit was complete), he has lost a few pounds of the lbs variety, and a lot of packaging has been saved from landfill. In addition, the packed lunch is helping us reduce our food waste as he sometimes takes in leftovers from the night before or has sandwiches made from the last of a loaf of homemade bread. We are both happy.

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Last night’s stir fry

However my lunch packing skills are being tested as my eldest child now requires a daily packed lunch too. Unlike Daddy, who will pretty much eat anything, and appreciates my efforts at working towards reducing waste, my priority for my wee one is finding things that actually stand a chance of getting eaten!

Popular items so far are proving to be mini individually wrapped ‘lunchbox’ items from the supermarket such as yogurt-covered strawberry pieces (see below), soreen bars, dried fruit bars etc. As you can imagine this causes me great angst…

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Multi-pack mini’s: heavy on the single-use plastic!

Also, water is coming home untouched, but drinks cartons (with plastic straws) are a hit! Here is a picture of this morning’s lunchbox and snack (beside the lunchbox).

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Apple, strawberry pieces, drink, pot of yoghurt, pot of fruit salad, sandwiches in foil

As you can see I’m thankfully getting away with using small pots, which have (so far) come home empty – partly because the contents are appealing and partly I think because the pots are quite nice to look at.  I use them to put in small portions of yoghurt, dried fruit etc. from bigger cartons and packets, thus saving on the packaging.

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You’ll see in the packed lunch photo that I’ve used foil for the sandwiches, instead of reusable sandwich wraps. This is because I find that to keep the sandwiches at their freshest, I need to double-wrap them in a cloth wrap (by Keep Leaf) and a plastic-lined wrap (by Onya).

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I can confirm that this is a (bad) photo of a roll and not a Weetabix…

I think however that layers of reusable wraps are a bit much for my wee one to have to deal with, especially when you throw in the requirement that everything needs to be brought home again at the end of the day… I therefore need recommendations for excellent easy-to-use reusable packaging!

Other ideas I’ve had – but not yet acted on – for a zero waste packed lunch include savoury muffins (made in re-usable cake cases) and treats that can baked at home to replace the individually wrapped mini things. Basically I’m looking for inspiration for packable food items that satisfy the conflicting priorities of appealing, sustainable and healthy. Easy, yeah?

I hope to revisit this topic on the blog after a few months when trial and error will have provided me with some information. In the meantime however, if you have any pearls of wisdom that you can pass on to me, I’d welcome them! I’m really hoping that a few of my fellow Blog Ambassadors will be covering this topic too so that I can nick their ideas be spurred into action by their amazing work!

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

Day 2: Zero Waste Week 2014

I’m loving Zero Waste Week. I like having a task to focus on, and the ‘One More Thing’ challenge is getting the cogs of my brain turning a bit quicker than usual.

Graphic from http://www.zerowaste.co.uk

I’m also a big Twitter fan so I’m embracing the interactive side of #zerowasteweek – there are lots of conversations to be had as well as new blog posts to read courtesy of the team of Ambassadors. In fact, I’m having to work hard at ignoring the beep beep beep of my phone as new alerts ping in while I’m busy with other things…

Yesterday my self-set task was to sort through a bag of old clothes, in an attempt to find materials that I could upcycle before I recycled them. The aim was to extend their life and to prevent me from consuming new things before I truly need them. The task took a mere five minutes! Delighted, I’ve been scratching my head to find a low effort/high impact job for today. It hasn’t take me long to discover one…

…The Rubbish Diet

First of all…that name! J’adore! As someone who eats what I like, when I like, I would be no good at conventional diets so to me, The Rubbish Diet sounds perfect. Of course, however, this diet has nothing to do with food…unless you put food in your bin that is…

The Rubbish Diet describes itself as the Slimming Club for Bins, and the website states:
We share ideas to make it really easy to create less waste, protecting our environment and saving money.

This is totally my cup of tea and, to be honest, I have been meaning to sign up for months. Since I started blogging about sustainable issues 18 months ago, I have reduced my waste significantly and estimate that as a household of four people, which was putting out three black bin bags of rubbish each week, we are now down to three quarters of a bag. However, I have been distracted from simply reducing my general waste because I have been focussing on quite specific topics on my blog, for example, minimising single-use plastics. Now though I am looking for something exactly like the Rubbish Diet to help me go the extra mile towards zero waste. By checking out the website and signing up, I am setting myself up for a slimmer bin in future, plus it ties in amazingly well with my sustainable goals for this year. I outlined them in this post written in January, and point 5 on reducing my rubbish needs attention.

So I fired up my laptop, grabbed a cuppa and a Mars Bar (what did I tell you about diets!), and checked out the Rubbish Diet site. While I’ve read parts of it before, and some posts by the lovely Karen Cannard ‘Bin Doctor in Chief’, I realised that sitting down to really absorb it was a first.

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I wasn’t disappointed. It is a website packed full of great ideas about avoiding waste in the first place, recycling and – I really love this – slimmers’ stories. It’s worth checking out, especially if you are taking part in Zero Waste Week. I certainly picked up some tips and felt inspired to try harder to reduce those bin bags. It even crossed my mind that, like a conventional diet, I could use the bathroom scales and weigh my rubbish each week, but perhaps that’s getting carried away…

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Now I’ve signed up, I am to receive regular emails from the Rubbish Diet team, the first of which came through as I drafted this post. One excellent tip in the newsletter was to set yourself a goal. I’ve therefore decided that mine will be to write a list of everything that goes in the bin over a 24 hour period, and then I will assess each item to see if:

• I really needed to have it in my house in the first place*
• It can be disposed of (or reused) in another way

Let’s see if I can slim that bin further!

*I fear for the future of my Mars Bar

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2014

Day 1: Zero Waste Week 2014

It’s the 1st of September which means that….drumroll please…it’s the start of Zero Waste Week!

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2014

As you can see above, the week has a website which you can find here. It is run by the dedicated Rachelle Strauss who has also recruited 25 volunteers to be Zero Waste Week Blog Ambassadors, of which I’m one. We will be writing this week on the subject of – you guessed it – zero waste.

The theme for this year’s annual challenge is ‘One More Thing’ which, between you and me, suits me down to the ground as it’s very much open to interpretation. With this freedom, I’m going to make sure that I have a lovely EASY week!

In case you’re suspicious…EASY isn’t an acronym. I really am going to relax for the next seven days, and take only small steps. I’ve had a busy summer and I need life to slow down a bit.

I’ve done my fair share of difficult challenges in the name of sustainable living – I gave up supermarkets for Lent, I attempted Plastic Free July and for Zero Waste Week last year I went to great lengths to tackle food waste. My efforts were worth it, and I made big improvements in my life, but this week I want to show you that even the small things matter and, over time, and with lots of people joining together, we can make a difference.

Like many of us, I want to make a difference in the world, a big difference even. It’s hard however not to be overwhelmed by such a task. Recently though, I stumbled upon a quote that someone had posted on Twitter, and I loved it. It works for a range of circumstances and I think it fits beautifully in the context of sustainable living. I snapped a screenshot and I read it often to keep me motivated – small actions matter!

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This week I’m going to pick one action every day that will be a step for me towards reducing my personal or household waste. I will post as often as I can to keep the blog  up to date with how I’m getting on. Some actions will need to be done just once to reduce waste long-term, and others will need to done again and again.

All are small improvements.

Most I’ve been meaning to do for ages but have been procrastinating.

None will be hard!

Today’s task is to sort out a big bag of old worn clothes that I’ve had lying around the house for months and ensuring that none of them end up in landfill.

I’m good at clearing out wardrobes and giving away my children’s clothes when they’ve outgrown them. I’m not even too bad at sorting my own clothes, and getting rid of things that don’t fit or suit me anymore. I like to see clothes that are in good condition passed on to other members of the extended family for use. We’re lucky to have lots of little people in the family to swap with, plus the women on my side of the family are remarkably similar in terms of size and colouring, so we happily snap up each other’s cast offs, and breathe new life into them.

Clothes that are in poor condition, and other material items (such as towels), are usually dropped off at our local Rag Bag. I’ve been happy with this as it means that they are recycled into items such as cloths and carpets. I’ve started to wonder though if I could make my old things work a bit harder before I send them to the Rag Bag…

I recently learned to sew which you can read about in this post. One of my aims for acquiring this skill was to try and adapt my kids’ clothes so that they could grow with them, as well as to personalise my own togs to make them more me! With this in mind I dragged out my big bag of holey ‘stuff’ and sorted through it.

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The task took me a mere 5 minutes. I separated the items I would never be able to use, and saved the ‘fabrics’ with the funky patters and the bright colours which I hope might be upcycled into pockets, panels or patches. Here’s a selection of what I rescued…

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This pile will no doubt end up back at the Rag Bag in years to come but I’m making it work harder before it gets there and I hope that by reusing it, it will reduce the number of new clothes that I have to buy.

If you’re taking part in Zero Waste Week then good luck! I’m looking forward to catching up with how you’re getting on and will be checking out #zerowasteweek on Twitter.

Sew-stainable fashion

I’ve had an unplanned blogging break for a variety of reasons. It’s lovely to be back writing though. In fact I’d better get back into the way of it, and fast, because Zero Waste Week begins on the 1st of September – this Monday!!

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If you are interested in signing up – take a look here for more information. The theme is ‘One More Thing’ and the week can be as hard or as ridiculously easy as you want! For inspiration and links to lots of great reading material, check out the hashtag #zerowasteweek

Although I’ve not been writing for the best part of a month, I have been thinking. Specifically I’ve been thinking about what I wish to achieve in terms of being more sustainable. In December 2013 I wrote this post outlining some of my goals for the year. An area that I need – and want – to focus on more is point 2 about ethical fashion.

I pledged to buy no new clothes for myself in 2014. I had a small slip-up when I had to replace a broken underwired bra (ouch!). I hadn’t really thought through the issue of underwear at the start of the challenge and, cheating or not, I made the decision that a second hand bra wasn’t really a good option for me. Otherwise, I’m doing well and no further new clothes have been purchased.

So far I’ve even got away without having to do much mending and, although there are a few items of clothing I could do with replacing, the issue is not urgent. What I still need to give some thought to is what happens at the end of this challenge when my clothes are getting worn out.

I have had one idea…

I could learn to sew!

Surely my sustainable journey hasn’t come to this?! I have to admit that I dismissed sewing (proper machine sewing) as ridiculous the first time it presented itself. As I am forever declaring on this blog, I am not crafty, arty or creative in any way at all. Plus, I’ve never aspired to be. Let’s just say that until I started this green-living malarkey I was happy to accept my artistic limitations.

However, I started making my own greetings cards last year, as a way of both avoiding the supermarket and reducing my waste, and it opened my mind a little. I’m not terrible at this type of craft plus the cards are well received, and it saves me money. As a result, I now look at card-making as, not so much of a hobby, but a skill that allows me to work towards my sustainable goals. Why should sewing be any different?

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Bet you can’t guess who this card is for or how old he is?  :-)

So, some months ago, I started to research beginners sewing classes. It felt a bit weird. Would I actually go along to a sewing class? Sit at a machine? Talk to strangers about…I dunno…. stitches?!

I found a site that I liked though and I kept sneaking back to take a look at it. Sewing would be a great way to extend the life of the clothes that I already have and it might work especially well for the children’s clothes – perhaps by adding panels to allow the clothes to grow with my little people. If I managed to acquire any skills that were beyond the basics then I might be able to make myself some bespoke pieces too – and don’t even get me started on the idea of sourcing some of the gorgeous fabrics online and turning them into cute little things for the kids! I could find organic or fair trade material, and buy only from UK manufacturers to cut down on air miles and… Ok! I was getting carried away, but there was definitely a growing sense of enthusiasm there!

The cost was £45 for a three hour Beginners’ class in using a sewing machine, which I thought was good value. Even if sewing didn’t turn out to be for me, I was paying for an adventure where I got to learn about something different and meet a few interesting people.

So I did it. I booked myself in.

The experience was a joy. The venue was in the centre of Edinburgh, beneath Edinburgh castle in the middle of the festival so my journey there was exciting, a weaving my way through buzzing crowds and performers. When I reached my destination I got a warm welcome and a cup of tea.

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The class taught me how to thread a machine and learn the basic skills that I would need to start sewing. I haven’t sewed since primary school, and as the class was early evening, my concentration was – frankly – poor, so I needed lots of reminding about what went where, but this was absolutely fine with the (very patient and lovely) teacher.

I wasn’t necessarily expecting to enjoy the actual sewing, but in fact it was pretty thrilling to put my foot on the pedal and zip out a line of stitches on the fabric we were given. Being a driver, it felt somehow familiar and quite natural to guide my material in the right direction.

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My driving is better than my sewing in case you wondered!

There was also the opportunity to look at things that some of the more advanced classes had made – a gorgeous dress, a divine top, funky lampshades – as well as to discuss what we wanted to do with our new skill. It began to feel like a realistic goal that I might do some sewing, and being with like-minded beginners and a talented teacher, was most inspirational! I left the class desperate to get started.

I’m currently planning my next steps. I have researched sewing machines. I’ve decided to buy a new one (as opposed to second-hand) for a couple of reasons. The shop from which I hope to purchase offers a tutorial on how to use the machine, and has good support in terms of repair. Both issues are important to me as no one I know well is a competent machine-user, so I’m on my own with this one!

I will probably do another beginners class before I make my purchase. I am keen to take my time and buy the right machine for me. It’s an investment and I want to buy a machine that will suit my purpose. I am aware that the way I am choosing to take up sewing is making it a reasonably pricey venture, but happily I am able to pay for it out of the money I have saved by not buying new clothes this year. Acquiring a second-hand machine and teaching yourself the basics from the manual/internet/someone you know is a much more affordable option.

I am hoping that my investment will reap financial rewards by allowing me to keep my expenditure on new clothes low at the end of this challenge. I’m hoping too that I will start to make savings on children’s clothes by being able to more effectively mend and adapt their clothing.

I’d love it too if I can become good enough at sewing to teach my children some of the basics. It would be a useful skill to take into the world and, even if they simply know that mending clothes is an option, then they are likely to save themselves some money (and save clothes from going to landfill) in the future.

If you are reading this post and thinking that sewing isn’t for you, then you might be interested in the valuable suggestion made to me by one of my best friends. On hearing the surprising news that I had aspirations to be a seamstress, she made the point that it might just be easier for me to source the material I want to use and take it to a local seamstress. This would put money into the local economy and (she didn’t say this) I’d end up with a professional product that wouldn’t fall apart after a few months. Ignoring her bemused lack of faith in me, I have to admit that she made an excellent point and I’ll save it, should I ever need a Plan B…