Waste Free Birthday party?

•March 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

recycle sign

Children’s birthday parties can create so much waste. The party itself is usually a very intense 2 hours of pure mania. So usually being super eco-minded is tricky. Also, my life is very busy and party planning ends up happening fairly last minute.

This year though I’m going to try and have a low-waste party for my daughter. Can I do it?

Well we’ll find out tomorrow. I will share my experiences with you – my failures and successes.

 

New Year Resolution – Give your Coffee Pods the Flick

•February 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

source: http://theconversation.com/what-our-love-affair-with-coffee-pods-reveals-about-our-values-30068 

I was never much of a coffee drinker until fairly recently. I never liked the taste – not really through university and not really in my earlier days of working. At the moment however I enjoy a cup of coffee a day. It’s more the habit of it that I enjoy. I like taking the time out to prepare and drink it.

My husband on the other hand is a coffee drinker from way back.  Every day without fail he’ll have a cup at about the same time.  Over the years the standard of coffee drunk has increased. From the instant coffee to buying his own beans, grounding it and using various methods to extract the coffee.

When we moved to the UAE, he bought a cappuccino maker. We felt very fancy. Then it broke and after some reading I bought him a better one for Father’s Day one year. He broke it! then I arranged to get it fixed – then he broke it again and again! In the end we had to get rid of the cappuccino maker.

When we moved back, we managed to acquire my sister’s cappuccino maker – which my husband promptly proceeded to break. So after that I had to put my food down and say no more cappuccino makers. This happened to be about the time that the coffee pod machines became super cheap and stores like Aldi started to sell the pods very cheaply too. Despite my reservations my husband bought one and thankfully in a way he’s managed to not kill the machine. Except that every time we made a cup of coffee it was filled with guilt. Guilt about all the pods we were throwing in the bin. The plastic that was never going to degrade and the mountains of coffee pods that must surely be filling up landfills.

Some facts about coffee pods:

  • Australians are consuming about three million pods a day.
  • More than 1.5 million households in Australia own a pod machine, a number forecast to double by 2018 with reports the capsule coffee market is on track to overtake the grocery bean market.

Apparently, the inventor of the coffee capsules, K-Cup, who sold enough capsules in 2013 to circle the earth nearly 11 times, wishes that he never created them in the first place and is said not to use them himself “No matter what they say about recycling, those things (K-Cups) will never be recyclable,” John Sylvan told The Atlantic. “The plastic is a specialised plastic made of four different layers…I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” (http://www.ecocaffe.com.au/news/3-million-pods-a-day/ )

Lately we’ve justified the use of our machine because there is a recycling point in Lane Cove. While this is better than disposal, the multiple layers of plastic and aluminium used means that it is in fact very difficult to recycle coffee pods and in many cases unless the aluminium pods are collected by TetraCycle who have specialist way of collecting and recycling the pods, they are not recycled at all. Certainly the plastic pods are not recyclable, therefore end up in landfill.

Then there is the compostable or biodegradable coffee pods. These are a lot more expensive than the average coffee pods and again there is no simple way of throwing them in your compost bin and hoping for the best. You need a special commercial composter to compost them. If they’re thrown in the bin in the hope of biodegrading in landfill they end up emitting methane – a very powerful greenhouse gas.

In short, the whole thing stinks and with 3 million pods being used every day, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that this is big problem.

About six months ago though I decided that enough was enough. Being an eco-mum, I wasn’t just concerned about what to do with the pods afterwards. My concern was about the use of resources to manufacture the silly pods in the first place. So I decided to go back to the way coffee is made in other countries like the Middle East and Italy – using the Moka Pot. This is a stove top coffee maker where water boils in a lower chamber and the steam creating pressure that then passes the vapour through the coffee to an upper chamber. It’s kind of like magic really!

I bought myself one of these pots along with organic fair trade coffee. The results have been good. Taste wise I like it and I especially like the process and the aroma that drifts through the house.  Time wise- it does take longer, but from a waste and materials use point of view it really is the way to go.  Especially as I compost all my coffee grinds and apply that on my vegetable patch.

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My husband on the other hand remains unconvinced. He swears that he likes the taste of the coffee pod machine more and while he’s usually very supportive of my eco-ventures. This is one where he is standing his ground – excuse the pun! I on the other hand will continue to put forward the case that our house needs to be a pod free house.  I urge the millions in Australia and beyond to follow suit.

With the new year just recently started, I ask everyone to make a pledge for the planet and enjoy a guilt free cup of coffee and if you make the pledge try and convince someone else to do it too!

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For more information on why coffee pods are harmful, please go to:

http://theconversation.com/what-our-love-affair-with-coffee-pods-reveals-about-our-values-30068

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/apr/10/rise-coffee-pod-machines-nespresso

Tomatoes

•December 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Okay, so my husband tells me I’ve gone on about this a little too much, but I have to say, I am super chuffed with my self-seeded tomatoes. They chose their spot next to the olive tree and I’ve let them go like a good mum with a little support and just look at the fruit they’ve borne me! this is just in one dayDSC_1253

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DIY Gifts from the Heart – Christmas Terrarium

•December 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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It’s that time of year again. Time has flown and it’s Christmas gift time.  As usual, I am going with the theme of my children making gifts for family.  This teaches them to look beyond the commercialisation of this time of year, and to express their love for family by transforming regular household items into items of beauty that I’m sure their family will treasure.

The last few years we’ve made edible goods. This year I decided to do something different. One day when I was looking at old jars, I decided to start collecting them to upcycle them by reusing them rather than recycling them.  This started my plan many months ago to make terrariums for family members using old jars.

A terrarium is essentially a jar with a plant growing inside it. It can either have a lid and be sealed, or it could be open.  Those with lids create a mini ecosystem in that evaporation forms condensation which ends up watering the plant.  Many plants can be planted in a terrarium, from decorative plants, to succulents.

As I was using reused glass jars, I decided to have an open terrarium and use existing succulents I had around my garden.

So how to get started and what do you need?

  • Old jars, cleaned
  • Large pebbles
  • Cloth
  • Soil – preferably one for bonsai or cacti as they have good draining qualities
  • Horticultural / activated charcoal

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Method

Place the pebbles at the bottom of the jar to about 2 cm. This helps with drainage and to keep your plants healthy.

I added some extra coloured pebbles and going with the Christmas theme, I had green, red and silver.

I cut a small bit of cloth (I used an old reusable cloth bag) and put over the pebbles before adding the soil layer because I didn’t want the layers to mix much.

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I added some activated charcoal then the soil. The activated charcoal acts to keep your terrarium fresh and stops any bad odours. Pat the soil down to prevent air bubbles.

I then added my plants. As my jars were small, I only used 1 to 2 plants per jar.  I added some more decorative pebbles on top and viola – done!

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The terrarium needs to be lightly watered through a sprayer about once a week, so it should be low maintenance.

My children were involved in all aspects of this activity, from choosing the colours and order of the layers, to selecting the plants to the actual plants. I know that they’re going to be so proud to give this to their family.

There are a lot of videos on how to make these and I share a few with you below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cy5btxZHaEw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3WuoU5-Rjs

It’s not too late to start your own DIY gifts from the heart project this Christmas. So what are you waiting for? Continue reading ‘DIY Gifts from the Heart – Christmas Terrarium’

The paste test

•November 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

For World Environment Day this year, I went along to an event at my old university: Macquarie University.  In fact, the event was held at the Lighthouse Theatre which brought back many memories of student plays, late night boogies and flirtations. This is where I met many of my dearest friends and where I also met my husband.

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Facilitating my trip down memory lane was Costa Georgiades. I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and passion and one thing that he talked about was toothpaste – yes toothpaste. He was talking about how to engage with your family and friends and suggested sticking a tube of toothpaste in the middle of the dinner table during a dinner party and talking about toothpaste – the good and the bad. This has also recently come to light as many of the mothers in my mother’s group are trying to encourage good dental care in their children and are wondering if they should add toothpaste to encourage their toddlers to brush.

Following the event, I did start a conversation with some friends around toothpaste over lunch – but now I’m going one step further and writing this blog with the hope of sharing some of my research.

The use of toothpaste goes back millennia.  It has been used to maintain good oral hygiene and different things have been used to achieve this.  Usually toothpaste has been used to help in the mechanical motion of brushing. In fact most teeth are cleaned very well with a simple brush without anything, however over time fluoride has been added into the mix.  Toothpaste usually includes different ingredients to provide an abrasive surface, thereby allowing the brushing action to be more effective.

Micro-beads

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Some toothpastes even contain plastic.  Micro-beads are tiny plastic particles added to things like toothpastes and exfoliating scrubs for abrasion.  In toothpaste they seem to be added only for the ‘pretty’ factor.

These micro-beads are made of polyethylene and polypropylene. These plastics don’t break down and are increasingly being found in oceans and waterways.  Various states in the US have already banned products with micro-beads, but other places such as Europe and Australia are lagging.  There are different players in the cosmetic industry however that are starting to move away from the use of micro-beads in their products. For more on micro-beads, please check out the following links:

Company commitments and Products with and without micro-beads.

The use of micro-beads in toothpastes such as Crest are well known.  These pieces of plastic do not breakdown and find their way wedged in small crevices in our mouth. So one of the first things to do in moving towards healthier toothpastes is to not use any toothpaste that has coloured specks in the gel and stay away from any that list polyethylene as an ingredient.

The use of some chemicals in toothpaste and their health impacts is debatable, however I will list some along with a balancing point of view and leave it to you to decide.

Flouride

Soudium flouride has been added to toothpaste for many years with the intent of avoiding tooth decay.  However this is also seen to be a carcinogenic ingredient that when ingested in large quantities can cause paralysis, convulsions and cardiac arrest.  Thankfully though, you would have to eat a lot of toothpaste for that to happen though.

Having said that however, it is a major issues, as fluoride is also added to drinking water (LINK) and overuse of fluoride can have the opposite effect of improving dental hygiene by causing dental fluorosis. In the US, this condition was found in 40% of teenagers.  For more information on fluoride, please go to: Flouride information

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I am now purchasing toothpaste free of fluoride and if you wanted to prevent over-exposure, as stated on the box don’t swallow toothpaste and keep away from children under 6 years of age.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This product comes from palm oil and is added to toothpaste to create the lovely foamy mouth that you get – giving you that getting clean feeling.

SLS is a corrosive agent that is found in lots of cleaning products and degreasers, so yes, it cuts through plaque, but probably harmful to other parts of your body too and despite best efforts not to swallow toothpaste I’m sure much sneaks in.

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Triclosan

This chemical is added to toothpaste for its antibacterial qualities. Triclosan is said to be very toxic to humans and cause cancer and be a skin irritant.  In animal tests it’s been shown to impact hormonal regulation.

Other studies that have analysed its use in toothpaste however have stated that it is beneficial to prevent gingivitis. Now could gingivitis be treated another way that isn’t so harmful? Maybe. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the use of triclosam in all products which includes clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys, antibacterial soaps and body washes.

Hydrated silica

This is added to toothpaste to provide an abrasive surface to take off enamel and stop enamel on your tooth re-minerilising.  As you can imagine of course, over-use can take off enamel from your teeth leading to tooth-decay.

If you’d like to read from the other side of the debate – essentially stating that none of these claims are true, please go to: Toothpaste Safety implications and toothpaste and cancer myths.

Conclusion

Overall, I think it’s important to take a balanced view.  You can maintain good dental hygiene without toothpaste by using bicarb soda, coconut oil and plain water. The main thing is to brush properly – try this toothbrush jam and groove yourself to better brushing technique.

I’ve already moved my kiddies away from the major brand toothpastes and my toddler doesn’t use toothpaste at all. I probably will continue to use toothpaste – too used to the feeling, but will use ones without these nasties and also will go for a palm oil alternative such as: Riddles Creek Organic toothpaste or Miessence (http://www.miessence.com/shop/en/category/3/body-oral-care), Pure & Green toothpaste

Group Of Young Friends Together

Eating yourself a rainbow

•October 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

My daughter is really into rainbows – like really into them. She draws rainbows everywhere. With chalk on walls. With paint on canvases. With pencils on paper.

I always try to feed my children healthy snacks and what better time to do that then the start of summer. Well to be honest, the last month has felt like summer. Spring has totally been skipped in Sydney which is very alarming to me. But back to the rainbows. On Saturday, I decided to make a rainbow fruit platter.

Apart from being pretty and very appealing to a rainbow obsessed little girl, there is in fact a lot of science behind this theory. Fruit and vegetables come in different colours and these colours are caused by phytochemicals.   Each different colour has a set of antioxidants which helps your body in different ways:

Red

Examples: Tomato, Red capsicum, Radishes, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Cherries, Red grapes, Raspberries, Watermelon and Red apples.

Benefits: red fruit and vegetables have lycopene. This is a powerful antioxidant which reduces the risk of some cancers and protects the heart.

Blue/ Purple

Examples: Beetroot, Red cabbage, Eggplant, Blackberries, Blueberries, Purple grapes and plums

Benefits: Blue and purple foods get their colour from anthocyanin.  The darker the colour towards blue, the higher the level of phytochemical. Blueberries for example are considered a ‘superfood’ and have the highest antioxidant activity of any food. The blue and purple foods are considered to help keep your blood pressure in check.
Green
Examples: Spinach, Asparagus, Avocados, Broccoli, Peas, Green apples, Green grapes, Limes, Kiwifruit, Green beans, Lettuce,Cabbage,Celery, Cucumber and Green capsicum
Benefits: Green foods include a whole range of goodies, like chlorophyll, cartenoids, indoles and saponins. They have cancer fighting properties also.
Orange/ Yellow
Examples: Carrots, Rockmelon, Lemons, Sweet potato, Pumpkin, Pineapples, Mangoes, Corn, Oranges, Squash, Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots and Grapefruit
Benefits: These coloured fruit and vegetables have cartenoids, especially betacartenoids.  They have anti-inflammatory qualities and are great for your eyes and skin and helps your muscles after exercise.
White/ colourless/ brown
Examples: Cauliflower, Brown pears, Mushrooms, White peaches, Garlic, Bananas, Potatoes, Dates, Onions, Ginger, Parsnips and Turnip
Benefits: These foods contain a phytochemical called alicin (found in garlic) which have anti-viral and antibacterial properties. These foods also support healthy bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis and reduces blood cholesterol levels.

Many schools these days have ‘crunch and sip’ where children take in fresh fruit or vegetables to have during class time with water.  This, along with lunches and recesses provide great opportunities to include a ‘rainbow’ in lunchboxes for children.  There is a great website which makes this fun with lots of ideas for parents and teachers.

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Wheelbarrow gardening!

•September 1, 2015 • 2 Comments

I had this old wheelbarrow and its tyre became flat. I couldn’t figure out how to pump it and after taking it back to the store I bought it from to see how I could get a new wheel, I was told it was easier to get a new wheelbarrow. Rather than throw it out, I decided to upcycle it into a mobile garden with the help of my kids.  The great thing about having a mobile garden is that you can move it to suit your needs. For example, there are places in my garden that are very shaded in winter and other areas that would be too hot in summer. I can use the wheelbarrow to move the garden to suit the season.

Before

Before

This became one of our projects during the school holidays.  First we painted it – they chose all the colours and actively painted the wheelbarrow with little assistance from me.

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We then visited a gardening store where each child got to choose a vegetable and a flower to plant in the wheelbarrow.  They chose some interesting ones: cabbage and cauliflower and some regular ones like carrot and strawberries.  I planted some Chinese greens too because they’re fast growing. It is only when you have your own garden that you realise the effort and time it takes to grow food. So I think one of the positives about growing food with children is to teach them patience. In spite of this, the fast growing and not likely to fail Chinese greens were also planted to keep the kids interested.

Happy little planters

Happy little planters

The beauty of this activity is that the kids were involved in the whole process.  They were so excited to choose the colours and to paint it and then again to choose their own flowers and vegetables to plant. The flowers as well as attracting bees, were planted because they add colour and are pretty.

They’ve really loved this activity and have taken great pride in it. My daughter almost daily visits her strawberries and counts them. After we harvested the Chinese greens, I had my son help to cook it up and we had it for dinner.  So another benefit is that they’re getting healthy eating habits too.

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Yum-o!

Yum-o!

I understand that not everyone has a house or access to space to grow food. Many schools have gardening clubs, so kids can become involved there. At home, it’s possible to grow some herbs in the kitchen, or if you have a common area, you can help to start a verge garden or community garden of sorts. Many edible plants grow really well in pots on balconies. You can even make a mini greenhouse using an old plastic soft drink bottle.  I think the important thing is to be creative. Look at what resources you have and start a project today!