Low-waste lock down

Happy May everyone,


It is officially the month of asparagus and the last month of Spring.


I'm a little late with my post this month but I hope it's something you'll find interesting.


To give you a little insight into the topic I thought I'd share a few things I've been up to that led to the subject of this post.


It's been a while since I wrote anything related to my attempt to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Over the past year I've gradually tried to find ways to integrate various elements of sustainability into our family life. We are far from perfect and could be doing much more but I'm sure there are many people in a similar position and others just starting on their journey. I hope in what follows I can pass on some helpful ideas.


I wanted to start by touching on the definition of "sustainabile living" because it's a term that is used a lot to refer to slightly different things.


"Sustainability" as a term on it's own is wider still. It's described in the Oxford Dictionary as "the ability to be maintained at a certain level or rate". In essence, we could be talking about the planet, fossil fuels, food, a human being doing exercise or eating a certain diet or just about anything.


"Sustainable living" is a bit more specific because it relates to a lifestyle choice.


According to Wikipedia, "it is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources and one's personal resources."


Those who talk about living a sustainable lifestyle usually mean that in one way or another (via transportation choices, food, or energy consumption) they are trying to reduce their ecological or carbon footprint.


From this definition it appears that "sustainable living" is still open to interpretation. Whilst some focus on reducing food waste, others focus on food choices, transportation or reducing their use of plastic but all will likely use the word 'sustainable' or 'sustainability' with regard to what they're doing. I don't think there is any right or wrong way to be more sustainable because all our efforts make a difference. I can only speak from my own experience which is what I will share here.


On our journey we have tried to reduce our family's footprint in several ways, including switching to a plant-based diet, reusable packaging and products instead of disposables (i.e. nappies, coffee cup, water bottles, bags), reducing household waste by buying refills where possible, shopping locally where possible, buying second hand clothing and furniture and searching for brands that are committed to using sustainable materials that are recycled or recyclable and follow vegan, cruelty free policies.


This blog post has been co-written with the lovely Maya.


I met Mya via a virtual networking event. We connected afterwards and shared our passion for plant-based and sustainable living.


We brainstormed and decided we'd write something to share our ideas for reducing waste during lock down and, more importantly, going forward after lockdown.


Maya studied Sociology at Edinburgh University and always wanted to start her own business, which she has achieved with Sustainer Container. The aim of Sustainer Container is to make sustainable living affordable and accerssible by offering enironmentally friendly alternatives to every day necessities.


Before I delve into talking about food waste, I'm going to let Maya share her tips below.

1. Sustainable gardening

Having additional time has led many people to turn to gardening.


Growing your own plants definitely benefits the planet, particularly if you are growing your own fruit and vegetables, which almost eliminates the supply chain that usually brings your food. However, rushing out to buy plastic plant pots does not benefit the environment.


Old egg boxes are the perfect eco-friendly plant pot to sow your seeds, place on a plate or dish as watering may cause the bottom of the egg boxes to get damp. Once your seeds begin to grow, transfer your plants into either a recycled jar or tin. Place stones at the bottom of your jar/tin to provide drainage and then add soil and your seedling, for an eco-friendly alternative to plastic plant pots. Plus tying natural twine (which is compostable) around your tin or jar can make your plant more decorative.


2. Eco-Friendly Note-Taking

Whether you are homeschooling, working from home or completing your final university work work at home, you are probably spending increasing amounts of time at home working. For many of us, this work will undoubtedly include making notes and writing up papers of some kind, potentially on a bundle of paper or fancy new notebook. A massive 40% of the wood that is harvested globally is made into paper, making producing paper a main motivation for deforestation. Additionally, 10 liters of water are used when making a single piece of A4 paper!


Help preserve the planet’s natural resources by typing up work instead of writing up notes by hand as much as possible and only print if absolutely necessary. For some pieces of work, writing (the old fashioned way) is absolutely necessary, and for many people the process of writing, or drawing a diagram or mind map can help to arrange your thoughts. Next time you need to top up your stationery supply, consider the environmental impact that your stationery has and research the most sustainable option. For example, try a notebook that is made using recycled materials.


3. Sustainable Stationery Supplies

Pens are another stationery item that you probably don’t think about when considering your environmental impact, but remember all the pens you have binned after they ran out or that you have lost? All that plastic will remain on the earth for up to 1000 years!!! Instead, consider a refillable bamboo pen to reduce your plastic waste, plus they can be refilled using standard biro inserts- buy one and they last forever, saving you money too. Click here to shop sustainable stationery.


4. Low-waste Picnics

Now that lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease and sitting in parks is allowed, picnic season is just around the corner! However, picnics often mean snacks packaged in plastic, paper plates, plastic cups and plastic cutlery, creating considerably more waste than an ordinary meal. Instead of buying pre packaged sandwiches and snacks wrapped in plastic, make your sandwiches and snacks at home before you go. As well as packing up your picnic being a fun activity, it will also be cheaper and healthier than buying your picnic foods from the supermarket.


Instead of taking paper plates, package your sandwiches and snacks in tupperware pots which can also double up as plates. Alternatively, beeswax wraps are a great reusable alternative to clingfilm and are perfect for wrapping up sandwiches, cakes or other snacks! Swap your plastic cups for a reusable water bottle to further reduce the plastic produced by your picnic. If your picnic requires cutlery, take bamboo cutlery- packaged in a hessian pouch for easy transportation and can be cleaned when you get home, ready for your next picnic.


I found Maya's tips really helpful. The stationary is something I hadn't thought about previously and, with our home schooling supplies running low, I'll definitely consider alternatives.


In addition to my conversation with Maya, I was inspired by insights I heard at the virtual Impact Summit, this month, which brings together bright minds using purpose driven business models to create change.


There were many inspiring and innovative business leaders that captured my imagination.


Olio is a business that really spoke to me because it's based on the simple idea of sharing food and avoiding food waste. The Olio app was created to connect neighbours with each other and businesses so surplus food can be shared.


Listening to Olio's co-founder Saasha, during The Impact Summit, made me reflect on the food waste we produce as a family. I always assumed it was big business, supermarkets and catering companies that created most waste and niavely thought that we couldn't make a huge difference. The great news is that we CAN impact change within our own homes.


"A third of food produced globally is thrown away and in the UK households are responsible for over half of all food waste. The average family throws away £700 worth of food each year. That adds up to £12.5 billion that is going straight to landfill" (Olio website)


I'm going to share my personal tips for reducing food waste in the home. This is something we are still working on as a family but hopefully what I share is of some relevance for you. 


1. A weekly shop and meal plan

Growing up as a child we never had excess food in our house and very little waste. My mum was always the queen of leftovers and didn't stock the fridge and cupboards with more than we needed.


My parents would do one biggish supermarket shop weekly and pick up bits and pieces they needed locally if there was anything in between. This is generally what I've stuck with as an adult having my own family.


Most weeks I write a rough plan, with 5/6 evening meals, and I include the ingredients to make the meals on our shopping list. I check our cupboards and fridge to see what else we are low on before I head for the shops and add anything additional to the list. This way I don't go off on a supermarket sweep and I spend less time in the shops. During lock down I've limited both the frequency and time I've spent in any shop and visited during times I know to be quieter.

2. Shop Local

This is perhaps more related to reducing our carbon footprint than specifically to food waste but I feel it's relevant at this time.


Since the UK lockdown I've got much better at shopping local. I even discovered a local fruit and veg van that's a mile from my house, which I can walk to. I visit the van on a Sunday to stock up on strawberries and vegetables. It's also outdoors with lots of space, which is a big bonus because I feel more comfortable outside during lockdown.


I top up on any baking and treat ingredients, plus vegan cheese or yoghurts, from our local healthfood store, which I visit every couple of weeks. They only allow 2 people in at any time and you also get to scan your own items to reduce any risk of spreading the virus. 


We order home delivery once a week from one of our favourite local takeaways. We try to support local businesses as best we can.


3. Buying non perishable items

If I'm unsure how much I'll use of something, I pick tinned fruit or vegetables or frozen is also a good option too.


I also freeze fresh fruit and vegetables if I over purchase. I always like to have frozen peas, spinach and some fruit, like blueberries, in the freezer. I use them for smoothies and peas are such an amazing little vegetable. They're great for throwing into pastas, stir fries, curries or to accompany any main meal.


4. Reinvent with left overs

I always try to reuse left overs or convert them into something slightly different. With an 18 month old who can be fickle with food we're often left with things she doesn't eat. For example, porridge in the morning is either a complete win and all eaten or barely touched. If it's barely touched, I'll quickly rustle up some oaty muffins for later. These are never left over!! Everyone loves them. I add more oats to the left over porridge, mashed banana, flour, maple syrup and baking powder and then I pop the mixture into muffin tins and into the oven. This gives us a supply of snacks for the day.


5. Cooking the right amount

There's nothing that frustrates me more than a tonne of left over pasta because a whole bag has been poured into the boiling water and it's way more than we need. With pasta, rice, couscous and most store cupboard items, I use a cup to measure how much I use. I know the kids don't eat huge portions so I don't offer them more than they're likely to eat. There is always more if they want it but I find that over cooking and over plating leads to a lot more waste.


6. Give away extra food

This may not be practical or possible during this pandemic but it's something I did before.


If I made too much food and knew it wouldn't be eaten, I'd give it to my mum and dad. I think they liked receiving a prepared meal they didn't expect, or little treats when I made too many.


It's been a while since I was able to do this but it was a more regular occurence prior to lock down. After hearing about the Olio app, which allows you to connect with neighbours and businesses to prevent food waste, this is something I'm considering doing once lock down ends. 


You can also donate food to your local food bank or food kitchen who make meals for those who need them.


7. Use by & best before dates

When shopping I try to remember to look at the use by dates so that I know how long I have to use the items I buy.


I don't pay as much attention to the best before dates because they are simply a guideline. I prefer to taste, smell anything that is beyond it's best before date if we haven't used it up.


8. Food Prep

For some individuals and families food prepping meals for the week ahead really works.


By this I mean making meals at the start of the week and storing them in the fridge or freezer.


For us this does not work. None of us particularly enjoy eating the same meals a couple of days in a row. We all like diversity and to enjoy a different meal each day (unless there are left overs). Life in lockdown can feel very samey and having the opportunity and flexibility to create something new each night keeps us all going.


When I attempted to prepare meals in the past and store them in the freezer, they would often be forgotten about and not eaten, which defeats the purpose.


For some families prepping meals in advance is perfect but for us it just doesn't work, so I think knowing what works for you is really important to reduce your food waste.


I hope that you found this post helpful. Do you have any tips for reducing waste? what's your favourite left over meal?


To find out more about Sustainer Container, you can visit Maya's site here.

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