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Eco-friendly Wet Weather Gear

In case you have missed it (and if you don’t live in South East Queensland, then it’s entirely likely you have), Brisbane has been experiencing some seriously wet weather. My shed has flooded for the first time ever. On Tuesday, we had the wettest day in 23 years. It’s been pretty crazy.

And I have a broken umbrella.

Fortunately, Yankee Elv had a spare unbroken umbrella, so I’ve been using that, but it did get me thinking about the broken state of my umbrella. One of the metal spines (arms? prongs? what do you call them?) is snapped in half and the nylon fabric has become detached from another metal bit. It was a pretty cheap umbrella to start with. The plastic handle was really uncomfortable and it was super flimsy. As one blogger, Sharon Russell, said:

Many people have adopted the belief that buying several cheap umbrellas is less costly than buying one umbrella of good quality that will last a few years. Instead, they simply plan to replace broken umbrellas whenever they need to.”

I must say, I have fallen prey to this attitude. What’s worse, when I stopped to think about, it occurred to me that pretty much every bit of an umbrella is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. Also, considering the cheapness, I’m pretty sure it’s not made from recycled materials. A bummer all around.

So this led me to thinking… what kind of environmentally sustainable wet weather gear might there be available? The answer: not much.

Treehugger has a nice list of umbrellas, but everything is American (except one, which is British). I found a Dutch raincoat (but seriously, brown and yellow? what possessed them?), however it looks a bit thick for our climate. It mostly rains in summer here. Ecouterre has a list of raincoats but they are all so expensive! There are some good, inexpensive, Australian umbrellas made from recycled umbrellas available at Positive Impact, but they only sell them in sets of 1000 or more for corporate clients. I think that might be a couple too many. Even ebay can’t help me. 😦

I guess I could go for the Urban Dictionary definition.

Does anyone know where I could get some eco-friendly wet weather gear?

Short of making my own raincoat out of the one Ikea bag I happen to have available and would rather like to keep?

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Mulberries: An Interlude

Guess who stepped in a mulberry?

cat's paw coloured purple

Princess.

Guess who left little purple paw prints all over the tiles?

woman holding a cat with a purple paw, kissing its head

Princess.

Guess who was highly unimpressed I was taking her photo while she had a purple-stained foot?

unimpressed-looking cat

Princess.

Yeah. Diva Princess. That’s who.

Just to show she’s not always messy and disgruntled…

tabby cat and tortoiseshell cat snuggling together on a bed

Princess is very sweet to little Fruity.

Awwwww.

Now if only the possums would hurry up and eat all the mulberries on the ground under the tree. We were just lucky this time that we didn’t end up with purple stains on the carpet. Fortunately only the bedrooms are carpeted. Phew! Now, keep up, possums!

P.S. My eco-friendly cat toy tip of the day? A twig from a poinciana tree. I was using one to encourage Fruity to follow me back inside and she loved it. I forgot though, that I used to play with Princess in the same way… she had to come join in! They took turns to bat the twig. So cute. Pou was very confused as to what they were doing. An ex-stray, Pou doesn’t really understand the concept of playing like that. But my point is – who said cat toys have to be expensive and made of plastic? These two get more fun out of a bendy twig than they ever have out of some weird plastic ball with a bell inside. Yay nature!

9

Reduce: Toothbrush Waste

Am I an eco-freak or is thinking about environmentally friendly dental hygiene a normal trait amongst the eco-conscious?

Thank you, I thought it was normal. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

Alright, for those of you less eco-freak normal than me, here’s why you should be thinking about the environmental impact of toothbrushes. Let’s take Australia as an example.

There are about 22 million people in the country. Let’s say, as a very rough estimate, that 1.25 million are little babies and don’t have teeth. So that’s 20.75 million Australians with teeth (including dentures, which still need to be brushed, so they count.) We all know the dentist tells us to change our toothbrush when it starts to get shaggy; about every three months. We also know that we are lazy, so we probably only change them every four months. So let’s say everyone changes their toothbrush three times a year (every four months).

Here’s the equation:

  • Australian population with teeth  x number of toothbrushes used per person per year  = number of toothbrushes used in Australia per year

…which equates to:

  • 20,750,000  x= 62,250,000

Yes, you read that right. By my very rough estimate, Australians are using 62 and a quarter million toothbrushes per year. (Some estimates say 30 million, but I’m going to presume Australians care about their dental hygiene more than that.) To boggle your brain a little more, keep in mind that Australia has a small population. Think of how many toothbrushes the US, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and Indonesians are using. Yikes!

These toothbrushes are made of plastic (the handles) and nylon (the bristles), plus they come in that dodgy plastic packaging – one of those single-use, disposable consumer items The Story of Stuff claims make up the vast proportion of our purchases.

Remember, no plastic is boidegradable. Photodegradable, sure (that means, broken down by sunlight into tiny pieces) – but it’s still there, being ingested by ever smaller organisms – entering and messing with our food chain from the very lowest level. All plastic rubbish goes into landfill or one of the ocean garbage patches (there are five – even though you may have only heard of the largest one in the North Pacific).

So what can we do about it?

Well, Mr Teeny-bop and I are trialling the Environmental Toothbrush and we are very excited! (Yankee Elv will get one too when her current toothbrush wears out.)

I found the wooden toothbrushes at Flannery’s for $2.95 each, which is very comparable with standard plastic toothbrushes (actually less than some). They are made of sustainably-produced bamboo (the handle) and a biodegradable polymer (the bristles) and will apparently compost completely in your home compost heap or bin. The packaging is cardboard and paper, which can be composted or recycled.

The one environmental downside is that they are manufactured in China (although this would be an upside if you lived in China, so I guess it all depends on your perspective). Regardless, every other toothbrush I’ve been able to find on the shelves is also made in China, so it’s not like they’re any worse than what we’ve been buying anyway, in terms of travel miles. My findings on manufacturing locations are backed up by an Australian Low Impact blog.

As far as the efficacy goes, I think they are great! The bristles are soft, which is my preference anyway, but these are a bit softer than I’ve been able to find otherwise, so I’m very impressd with that.

The handle is comfortable and the head is small, which works for me as I have a small mouth. Sometimes I find toothbrushes are a bit big to fit comfortably between my top and bottom teeth and I have to really open wide to brush my back molars. This toothbrush doesn’t require that, which is great.

Also, my front teeth curve a little bit and it can be difficult to clean the back of them, but the small head and soft, bendy bristles make cleaning a breeze. I think I actually like the way this brush works better than any other I’ve used. So it’s a win for me!

Mr Teeny-bop also reports that is it very comfortable. He likes that it’s not so ‘plasticky’ in his mouth and he also likes the smaller head and softer bristles. We are using coloured elastic bands (stolen from Yankee Elv’s old hair supplies) to tell the toothbrushes apart.

I am conscious that we will have to be careful to keep the toothbrushes dry. I think leaving them standing in a cup (our current method) is not going to be an effective way of keeping the ends from staying damp and potentially rotting. We’ll have to modify our toothbrush storage method, but I think that is a small price to pay.

So why don’t you give them a try? If you don’t live in Queensland and thus don’t have access to a Flannery’s shop, you can order the toothbrushes from the site, like the folks at My Green Australia are going to. Alternatively, try find your own locally produced environmentally-friendly toothbrushes, and spend your four minutes of toothbrushing per day congratulating yourself for diverting more plastic from landfills and oceans. Cos we all deserve some self-congratulation sometimes, right?

Remember to spread the word to your family and friends. These toothbrushes are not only good for the environment, they’re also good value and comfy to use!

P.S. These toothbrushes are also vegan. No boar bristles!

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4

Friday Feast: Vegan Quiche

I was reading my local Vegsoc forum and came across a thread about vegan chickpea omlettes. The thread included a recipe for a batter based on chickpea flour (rather than eggs), plus a tonne of rave reviews. Apparently, this batter can be used to make lots of things: omlettes, fritters, faux scrambled eggs, pizza bases, frittatas and quiches. Considering I hadn’t had any of this eggy stuff for at least 6 years, I thought I might give it a go. I made a quiche, and it was pretty good! I thought it tasted quite quiche-like. Yankee Elv, who still eats eggs, didn’t think it tasted exactly like quiche, but she liked it a lot anyway.

I made mine in a pie dish, so it was quite shallow. If you wanted a thicker quiche, you could put it in a smaller dish or double the mixture. You might have to increase the cooking time too. I didn’t make mine with pastry, but other people have made it with vegan puff pastry and it worked well. I might try that next time.

Vegan Quiche

vegan quiche

My very first vegan quiche (no longer an oxymoron) - made primarily with chickpea flour and topped with pine nuts.

Ingredients

**batter**

  • 1 cup besan (chickpea) flour
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2 tabs olive oil
  • salt/pepper to taste (be generous)
  • vegan margarine (to grease the dish)

**my filling** (this is all optional, change as you like – you want to add flavourful stuff though or it will be bland)

  • sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced
  • roasted capsicum, finely diced
  • black olives, finely diced (consider the strong flavour of these when deciding how many to add)
  • shallots (green onions), finely diced
  • nutritional yeast (I used about 1/8 cup)
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • Italian herbs
  • pine nuts (to sprinkle on top)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Sift besan flour into a bowl. Add other batter ingredients (aside from vegan margarine) and combine very well.
  3. Add filling ingredients (except pine nuts) and combine.
  4. Pour mixture into a greased dish. (Use vegan margarine to grease.)
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 mins, then sprinkle pine nuts on top and return to the oven.
  6. Continue to bake for about another 10-15 mins, or until set and golden brown around the edges (and on top, if you want).

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8

The Milo Replacement Debate

I know I keep harping on about this vegan thing, but it’s something I’m conscious of lately, it’s often at the forefront of my mind. You know how when you’re just learning how to do something, you have to think about it, nothing is second nature? That’s how it is for me still. Vegetarianism was like that too for a while, but it became automatic eventually, and so will veganism. It will just take time. For now though, living vegan feels like one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, commitment-wise. It’s not that it is difficult to eat vegan generally, but it is tough (particularly as a new vegan, I think) to keep it up, day after day. Especially when it means missing out on foods you love, for which there doesn’t seem to be an adequate replacement.

Don’t get me wrong – as a vegetarian and now as a vegan, I’m discovering so many new foods and food combinations that I enjoy. Check out my StumbleUpon favourites if you want some examples! Most of the foods I’ve given up were never very healthy for me in the first place. Some I ate more often than I should have. Overall, I think I’m better off as a vegan, although I’m not experiencing that wonderful, bouyantly healthy feeling many new vegans brag about. I wonder if that’s because it’s been such a slow transition for me, and the non-vegan things I did eat weren’t chock full of dairy and eggs. I have been on mostly soy and oat milk for years, so I guess it wasn’t such a shock to my system, like it was when I first went off drinking milk. I had to do half cow/half soy for a while to allow my body to adjust. I got there, and soon only ate a few non-vegan things.

But those few non-vegan things I did eat! Most I’ve since given up without much concern (such as ice-cream or custard), but there are others that have been more difficult – cheese for example. It seems to be the universal vegan stumbling block. This has, however, worked in my favour regarding cheese. Since everyone finds it tough to get over, there are lots of recipes and ways around it, advice, suggestions and commiserations. There are some other things that seem to be more unusual though, and I’m actually finding those more of a struggle.

milo

Milo: chocolatey goodness that is actually good for you! But it's not vegan. 😦

Milo, for example. For those of you who don’t know, Milo is a chocolate ‘energy food’. It’s something like chunky Nesquik or Ovaltine, but with the vitamins of Sustagen. You add it to a glass/mug of cold or hot milk (non-dairy, in my case), and stir it in. Unlike other chocolate milk powders, it doens’t entirely dissolve in cold milk, but  also leaves a moist, chocolatey, slightly crunchy top layer of ultimate tastiness. Milo is low GI and provides a bunch of vitamins, minerals, iron and calcium. It’s brilliantly tasty and I’ve been eating it all my life. It was pretty much my stand-by for whenever I wanted a chocolate bar but didn’t think I should have one. Milo gave me the flavour without all the bad fat and sugar. It also helped ensure I got my vitamins and minerals. At work, I was known for having a giant tin of Milo on my desk. I heard more than my fair share of Milo and Otis jokes.

Unfortunately, in addition to the malted barley and cocoa and sugar and other fabulous ingredients Milo is made from, it also includes milk powder (just a little bit), so it’s not vegan. That means no more drinking Milo. And since this doens’t seem to be a global phenomenon, there doesn’t seem to be a comparable vegan alternative. At the moment, I’m drinking Akta-Vite, which does the trick for vitamins and minerals, although not so much with the sugar, taste and texture. (As a colleague said, it looks like little chunks of rat poo. It does, fortunately, taste better.) It’s not the same though. Akta-Vite dissolves completely (except for random chunks left at the bottom of the cup), so it’s not a good replacement for cold Milo. As a hot drink, it tastes a bit like Horlicks (who came up with that name!?). Malted, but not so chocolatey. I know I can drink hot cocoa, but it doesn’t solve my vitamins, minerals and sugar problems. And what about a cold drink?

I am out of ideas! Aside from drinking Akta-Vite (which I’m doing), making my own inferior batch, or somehow convincing Milo to go vegan… what can I do?

And if, as I suspect, there’s nothing I can do… how on earth do I get over it?!

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0

Spotlight: Toilet Lid Sink

I saw this interesting little item on Greenopolis the other day – the toilet lid sink (technically called the Sink Positive). Basically, it’s easily installed in place of the cistern lid on your toilet, and when you flush, the clean water comes from the water supply, to the tap (under which you wash your hands) and then it goes down the plughole into the cistern, replacing the water that has just been used to flush the toilet. The next time you flush, this water is then used, and replaced… and so on. In this way, the water is used twice, rather than just using fresh water to flush. This would save heaps of water in hand-washing – and would restrict people to a certain amount of water for washing too.

Have a look at the video explanation (no captions, sorry), then read what I consider to be the downsides.

Downsides:

  1. I’m a pretty quick hand-washer and I think this would give me more water than I actually need most of the time.
  2. Where do you stand to wash your hands? Do you straddle the toilet? Try stand to the side of the toilet? It would be difficult to position yourself in any situation, but especially in separate toilets, like we have in lots of Australian households (as in, the toilet is in its own separate little room).
  3. I just know someone will knock the soap into the bowl. I know it.
  4. Cats love sinks. Imagine going to the toilet with a cat sleeping right behind you on top of the cistern. Interesting…
  5. There’s no way to modify the water pressure.
  6. How do little kids reach the sink? Stand on the toilet lid?

Do you think this grey water solution is beneficial enough to the environment to overlook the downsides?

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3

Sustainable Menstrual Pads

I read an article on BlogHer today called iPads and Maxi Pads: Changing Women’s Lives in Uganda. Alison McQuade (the author of the post) uses the hype around the new iPad to draw attention to a more important issue – that Ugandan girls are dropping out of school at puberty because they have no access to sanitary items (pads, panty liners, tampons, menstrual cups etc). It struck a chord with me today particularly because I’ve just been trying out a new cloth pad. I’ve had it for ages but have been so enamoured with my menstrual cup, supplemented with cloth panty liners, that I hadn’t worn it before today – and I just felt like trying it out. The sock monkey called to me.

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve heard before that many girls in third-world countries don’t have access to any menstrual items, but I was surprised that the solution suggested in the post was to donate to a non-profit group (the Kasiisi Project) who provide disposable pads to the girls. The other group I know of who used to try to combat the same issue was Goods 4 Girls, who provided cloth menstrual pads to African girls (Crunchy Chicken, who ran the group, has since had to let it go – I’m not sure if anyone else has taken up the mantle). The advantage of cloth pads, of course, is that they can be reused over and over again with just a simple washing between wears. Quite aside from the environmental impact, I envisaged the aftermath of introducing disposable pads as something like a less serious version of the Nestle baby powder tragedy of the 1970s/1980s. What would happen if the Kasiisi Project ran out of funds? The girls would run out of pads and be right back where they started.

However, I did a little more research and while I still think cloth pads are a better option, I like the holistic set-up the Kasiisi Project has set up better than the ‘make a pad and donate it’ style of Goods 4 Girls. (Of course, this likely came about because the Kasiisi Project is a well-established non-profit organisation and Goods 4 Girls was a one woman who took donations – so you know, fair enough, you do what you can.) The Kasiisi Project donates Maka Pads, which are produced in Uganda as part of a cottage industry – often employing the families of the girls who will benefit from them. They are made from locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper, using little electricity in production. They can be worn for 8 to 10 hours, much longer than a regular pad (depending on your flow of course), so you use less of them. They’re cheap (US 0.5 cents per pad) for the city women who buy them, but most of the rural girls access them through donation.

Clearly the people behind this part of the Kasiisi Project have thought beyond the immediate need of the girls who would otherwise miss out on an education – they have also considered how to help the community and the environment. If you’re interested, I found this video much more informative than the websites (unfortunately there is no captioning).

Now, don’t think I’m dissing Goods 4 Girls because I’m not. It was still a worthwhile effort, as is the Kasiisi Project – every little bit helps (in most cases). But you know what would be best of all? A combination of their methods, which would, in my opinion, be the best option. Keep up the local cottage industry, but produce cloth pads, which can be reused for a long time. Of course, that then brings up the question – where does the cloth for the pads come from? Is it possible the Kasiisi Project already considered this and found locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper to be the more sustainable option after all? I guess if you had to ship in the cloth over a long distance, that would be a significant impact in and of itself. Also, has the Kasiisi Project factored in the disposal of the used pads?

I may email them to find out. Will keep you posted!

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