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Nappy rash?

I spent a pleasant afternoon last week with Nicola Broadsmith who runs the Isle of Wight Real Nappy Network. I also learned some pretty mind-boggling stuff about disposable nappies and probably a lot more about them than I had intended. In the last comprehensive council waste survey published ten years ago disposable nappies were the single biggest item in household waste accounting for around 16% of landfilled – weighing an estimated 923 tonnes per year. Just think about that for a moment.

So what is in a disposable nappy? Well it is made out of three parts. The outer as you will know is plastic, while the inner lining is virgin pulp (no recycled paper here thank you – we need to chop down new trees for our babies’ bottoms). And the stuff inside the virgin pulp – the stuff that soaks up the baby’s wee – is sodium polyacrylate, a powder that can absorb 500 times its weight in water. It was also banned for use in tampons  in 1985 because of its link to toxic shock syndrome.

Nicola also told me about some research that showed that the temperature inside a wet nappy – i.e. one where the sodium polyacrylate was busy doing its stuff – was a degree hotter than in a non-wet nappy. And, she added – we would not wear plastic pants – so why do we put them on babies?

So what are the alternatives? The reusable nappies that Nicola showed me were nothing like the terry towelling versions secured with a mammoth safety pin that had instantly sprung to mind. And there were lots to choose from. The Isle of Wight Real Nappy Service offers a rental system for nappies for newborns. And once baby is ready to move on she offers a try before you buy scheme to work out which is the best nappy for you and your baby. For this you get eight to 11 different brands of nappy to try over ten days – and a 60 to 90 minute consultation with Nicola who will tall you everything you need to know.

Nicola is thorough and knowledgeable in the way that she runs the service – and says she won’t leave until the parents are absolutely clear on the products and how they need to be washed.  The cost also stacks up to. By using real nappies rather than disposables you can save upwards of £800 compared with a prestige brand like Pampers – even taking into account washing costs. And if you do get on with your reusables – they will save you even more if you have baby number two.

To find out more about the Isle of Wight Real Nappy Network visit


Food for thought

We are more than half way through July, and for me that means that Plastic Challenge is closer to the end than to the start. Trying to cut out single use plastics from our lives has proved impossible, although I am proud with some of the progress we have made. But I am also a little sad. Not just because plastic seems to be almost everywhere (we knew that) but because it risks overshadowing the real environmental problem, which inherently is bound up with the way we live.

I feel I have lost a few of you already, so thanks if you are still with me. Trying to cut single use plastics involves planning, because essentially single use plastics are there to avoid planning. Forgotten your lunch? No worry, your nearby supermarket will have a plastic wrapped salad with its plastic wrapped knife and fork and plastic wrapped dressing to keep you sustained. Nothing to drink? Ditto.

But it is more than that. Eating has morphed into refuelling for so many people. You see them in offices, picking at plastic wrapped food while simultaneously typing at a keyboard, neither activity being carried out to any great efficiency.

When did we stop celebrating mealtimes? When did we stop taking time out to craft meals, sit down at a table, and connect with friends or converse with family. Many of us still do this, but even I found myself lunching occasionally at my desk. Offices and workplaces used to have canteens or staff rooms, but these seem less common, and where they exist can be places that you would rather avoid than, spend time in, and if there is no green space nearby or the weather is poor, well, you are a bit stuck.

During the Plastic Challenge I have found myself connecting more with food, asking where it came from, how sustainable it is, whether it has clocked up a lot of food miles in the process of getting to me, who (or what) else has suffered (or benefitted) as a result of my purchase. I have also found myself finding ways to be a bit more creative with food, planning more,  enjoying food a little more – and wasting a little less. In short, I have taken time out to enjoy food.

So, watch out for a campaign to re-instate the British lunchtime….


This is not a recipe blog

I have been putting off buying those products where I know with a little bit of planning I can get them loose or not wrapped in plastic. But this means that occasionally I run out of the odd ingredient. Rice was one such item as Plastic Aware Facebook followers will know. But rather than capitulate and buy a plastic wrapped packet, I reached into the darkest corner of my kitchen cupboard to see what I could find as a substitute. Pot barley (of rather dubious origin) was the answer. With some help from the Internet I worked out how to cook it up and served it in place of rice. It was not risotto, but it was not bad. It made me wonder what other ingredients  I might have in my cupboard that were not yet fulfilling their culinary destiny.

On a separate day I came across a tin of chickpeas and I realised that I had the ingredients needed to make falafel. I am going to share these because I am really quite proud of how good the final result tasted for such a banal collection of ingredients. In addition to the tin of chickpeas, the recipe required two slices of stale bread, a couple of garlic cloves (we love our garlic) a bit of parsley (just enough in the garden) and whatever curry-type spice you have (optional). Whizz these up together (although I think the 21st century expression is ‘blitz’). Then squeeze small handfuls together to make six or eight falafel. Fry in generous amounts of oil. Serve with some “ribbons” of courgette and carrot (colours courtesy of Living Larder) and topped with some yogurt mixed with more chopped garlic (mmm….) and you have the result in the picture above. But, as you already know, this is not a recipe blog.

It is not just kitchen cupboard where you will find unwanted or unused products. Push bikes and mobile phones are two of the surplus items you will find launguishing in outbuildings or drawers in many households. But are they really doing any harm? Yes, is the simple answer. All the stuff that we keep in our lives that we are not using mean that they are lost to the economy. These items are not being used by someone else and they are not being recycled or refurbished as resources to make new products. Simply storing stuff in our homes means we end up buying and using more resources (plastic or not) that we – or other people – don’t need to.

Years ago when I used to travel on sleeper trains in parts of Europe you would be given an “overnight pack” including a towel, flannel and various “throwaway” products including a flimsy toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste. I was travelling with my own more robust versions of these things so didn’t need to use them. But rather than throw these freebies away, I kept them and carted them around with me whenever I moved house. But when I ran out of toothbrushes during the Plastic Challenge I realised that I could simply use them. The sleeper train toothbrush may not appear as robust as my regular version, but I have been using it for over a week and it still seems to be doing a fine job. And it puts off the day when I need to buy a brand new one.

And I also took the time to erase the data off a couple of old mobile phones and gather them together with some earphones I never use (I have the wrong shaped lobes). I took them to the electronics shop CEX. They were willing to pay good money for them and we had a top notch dinner out on the money that we got. Meanwhile someone else was able to use my old phone cutting out the need for another new product.

So if you are struggling with the Plastic Challenge and pulling your hair out about how every item is covered in single use plastic, give yourself a break. Start with a little life laundry and put a few resources back into the economy or start using the things that have been in your home for years. You will feel much better. And if you have already done this and have nothing going spare in your cupboards or drawers then you have my endorsement to feel smug, you are doing brilliantly already.

Material girl

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with recycling. Don’t get me wrong, I rinse off every can, bottle and recyclable plastic container that passes through our house, diligently separating them for collection every fortnight. But I get a bit strange when I read about wonder solutions that use recycled plastic – today it seems to be roads, years ago it was  local authority-procured park benches.  And of course the ubiquitous fleece coats that are going to solve our waste plastic bottle problem. 

But what has made me such a recycling killjoy?

Firstly when I see products being proudly proclaimed as environmental friendly because they were made of recycled this or that I see a double whammy of people trying to get environmental Brownie points today but postponing the problem of what to do with all this waste for the next generation to deal with. 

Secondly I felt that trumpeting products because they were made of waste this or that was a Hail Mary pass to avoid asking the tough questions of why we were producing so much stuff in the first place – and how we could could stop.

Add to that the damage caused by the microplastics that escape each time you wash your fleece made out of 23 recycled plastic bottles – and you might start to see where my issues are coming from. 

But top of my list of recycled no-no products was the pencil-case that proudly announced it was made of recycled tyres. Remember them?  You might even have one in the back of a drawer. They smelt and felt disgusting. And the idea that the problem of waste tyres could be solved by converting them into miniature bags for our writing tools was, well in my mind at least, preposterous and rather insulting. Had I been a bit more charitable I might have suggested to myself that such a product was alerting us gently to the problem of waste and that there were alternatives to dumping stuff like this in the ground. 

But I was still regularly huffing and puffing about products being marketed as environmentally friendly because they are made of recycled this or that until I heard marine plastic expert Natalie Weldon. We should be pushing for much more recycled content including plastics because that will stop more plastic entering the economy and less of it leaving, she explained to me. This is recycling at its best. Waste as resource not a problem or an environmental gimmick. So I am now fully on board. Just no more pencil cases out of tyres please.

Dairy Queen

Everyone trying to live a low plastic lifestyle will name one or more products that, no matter how hard they look, they just can’t find a plastic-free option. For me it is dairy.   While I now know that I can get Plastic-less cheese with a bit of forward planning, I have yet to say the same about cream. Even butter is wrapped in something dubious. Yes I know that I can switch to home delivered milk in glass bottles. And maybe I would if I knew I was not moving house in a couple of weeks. But even milk in bottles has unexpected consequences. Firstly the bottle needs to be reused a certain number of times (20? 50?) to be a good sustainable alternative. And the bottles should not travel too far if they are to cut carbon emissions as glass bottles of milk weigh more than their equivalent four pints in plastic. I think the Isle of Wight’s Queen Bower Dairy scored positively on both points until its demise especially if you were getting your milk delivered to a home in east Wight. But surely there will be a limit to the number of people willing to start work at 3am just so you and I can have plastic-free pint of milk first thing in the morning?

Back to today’s Plastic Challenge. My partner’s cooking this evening and he has come up with a largely plastic-less dinner. But, “everything is in plastic” he lamented on his return from the local Co-op. Today he has boycotted all purchases in plastic in moral support of me and the Plastic Challenge. I am very grateful for such solidarity. Until I try and make something for lunch tomorrow and find nothing more than a jar of capers in the fridge….

PS. The picture? We had a very first world problem of trying to find regular but plastic-free lemonade to go with our Pimms (I know). No chance. Curse thee Co-op. Had to make do with G&T. Such hardship….

PPS. I updated this blog slightly since I learned via the comments her and on Facebook that the Queen Bower is no more.