Sunday, 13 October 2019

The bathroom shelf

Hi there, it has been way too long. However, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t continued our efforts to reduce our personal waste.

We’ve done a lot in the bathroom already by banning bottled soaps and shampoos but we can do more. A lot more.

When tackling the bathroom shelf, we had to ask ourselves the question: do we really need this, and if so, can it be replaced by something less polluting? The word “need” is flexible of course. Strictly speaking, I don’t need make-up, but no way will I ever leave the house without my face on.

So which improvements were we able to make?

1.    Shaving cream

My husband Mick replaced his shaving gel with shaving soap and a shaving brush that he got from someone for Christmas. He started using it, because you know, you kind of have to…. if only to tell the person who gave it to you that you have at least tried. He tried it and never looked back.

The soap came in a rosewood box (Arlington Christmas special). It looks very neat in our bathroom and it can be refilled. The soap can be bought in a local shop, as well as ordered online, and it arrives in a cardboard box, no plastic.

In order to be able to compare, someone measured his shaving foam consumption for me because there was no chance Mick was ever going back to that. Both “shavers” have the same relaxed approach to facial hair and shave every two to three days.

It is not easy to compare because shaving foam is expressed in millilitres and shaving soap in grams so I am mostly guessing. I asked shaver #1 how long a shaving foam bottle lasted him. The answer was approximately three months. In one month the shaving foam from an aerosol bottle went down from 128 gr to 107 g. A bottle costs around 4 to 5.5 EUR. That comes down to 20 to 22 EUR/year and 4 empty aerosols.

The shaving soap refill costs around 15 EUR and it weighs 100 gr. Shaver #2 weighed the soap with an interval of 1 month and the difference was 11 grams.  That comes down to 20 to 22 EUR/year.

So there is not much difference but the bonus of the soap is: shaving becomes an experience, no longer a chore. Well, that’s what real men say anyway. Whatever…

Recently, Mick also abandoned the plastic Gillette Mach 3 razor blades that every decent man “needs” in his life. He replaced it with a safety razor.

Financially: no difference
Space: no difference
Effort: no difference
Environmentally: big win

2.    Make-up and Make-up remover

I used to buy make-up whenever I felt like a new colour. And I’m sure I am not the only one. I particularly like the smoky eyes colours. I just opened my bottom drawer; I have loads of half-used make-up.

OK, that’s finished. I have promised myself to use up everything before buying anything new. That’ll probably keep me going for another 20 years.

I also stopped using disposable make-up brushes and bought proper brushes that I clean every week. At first, I bought a “proper” make-up brush cleaning product (just to show that they will sell us anything!). Of course that comes in a plastic bottle. It didn’t take me long to realize that I can clean my brushes with natural soap under the tap as well. So that bottle has to go as soon as it is finished.

Financially: win, because I buy less
Space: win, because all the make-up I have in the bottom drawer will be gone in 20 years
Effort: win, because I will have less stuff to worry about
Environmentally: win because I buy less, therefore throw away less

3.    Cotton pads

Cotton pads come with make-up remover. I used one or two a day. I knew a washable version was available but it was quite expensive and I had just bought a design cotton pad holder. The reusable cotton pads are larger than the disposable ones, so I’d have to get rid of my designer cotton pad holder, unless….

So off I went to the textiles shop to find cotton for cotton pads. I found an off-white honeycomb cotton that I boiled first to make it shrink. Then, I asked a friend of mine to make cotton pads that fit my designer holder. I now have enough cotton pads to keep me going for 3 months.

Financially: win, because I never have to buy cotton pads again, I do have to boil them once every 3 months.
Space: no difference
Effort: small loss, I have to wash my cotton pads every 3 months but I don’t have to go out and buy new ones.
Environmentally: big win because I don’t throw anything away anymore, but I use detergent to wash them, and make-up needs special stain remover.

4.    Cleaning ears

I had this awful habit of cleaning my ears every day. I got this habit from my childhood.

One of friends was not allowed to leave the bathroom without cleaning her ears. I can still recall her mum asking: “did you clean your ears? Where is the Q tip?”
Now, 45 years later, I clean my ears everyday every time I’m in the bathroom… It was ridiculous.

First of all, I stopped cleaning my ears every day. Once a week is more than enough.

Secondly, I started to look for a more eco-friendly version.

I found something online made from bamboo. I am not entirely satisfied with it yet. I still have disposable ones which I’ll continue using until finished (though not every day).

If I find a better reusable one, I will try it.

Financially: win, because I don’t have to buy any Q tips anymore
Space: win, because I now have only 1 Q tip
Effort: win, because I will have less stuff to worry about and never have to buy again
Environmentally: big win because I don’t throw anything away anymore

5.    Moisturising

During a visit to the Lush shop, my husband said he wanted to try a new moisturiser without any packaging. He was using an aerosol bottle from L’Oréal. The lady from the shop gave him something. He tried it.

Every time I kissed him goodbye or hello, the smell of that Lush block just made me want it too. So now, we each have one. No more plastic or even glass containers. The Lush block is solid. You rub it on your skin and your body temperature makes the wax melt. No more packaging!

The one problem with it is: summers like we’re experiencing now: they melt around 37°C. I will still need to buy a container for travelling to warm countries and during hot summer days.

Financially: moisturiser is always expensive. I would like to think it is comparable.
Space: is the same. I have replaced one product with another product
Effort: the same
Environmentally: big win. Apart from the paper wrappers that Lush products come in, we have no more waste.

Next: Clothes, travel or maybe Christmas presents…

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Fruit juice, milk and eggs

One of my projects was to figure out the difference in carbon footprint between plastic bottles and drink cartons. But you know what? I am no longer going to because I can avoid both.

In our house, plastic bottles or drink cartons were mainly milk and fruit juice. We don’t drink coke or lemonade. Occasionally we drink wine or beer. Those come in glass bottles. Water we had already taken care of (you can read my blogpost on water here).

I don’t drink milk or fruit juice myself, but my husband Mick likes his daily glass of each, so I had to find a solution for the bottles and cartons.

Fruit juice

Mick likes a daily glass of orange juice. He drinks about 2 litres a week.

The obvious thing to do here is squeeze your own oranges.

So I went looking for a sustainable fruit press for Mick’s birthday. I looked at several electric ones, thinking I didn’t want to make his daily routine too burdensome but then Mick suggested himself we go for the completely mechanical one.

Right, so I bought this beautiful piece of kit that has now been in our kitchen for 1.5 years. Mick now presses oranges every day. After a while I asked him if it was no too much work. He said it wasn’t. The pressing takes just as much time as he needs to wait for his toast to pop out of the toaster.

Freshly squeezed orange juice is more expensive than what he used to drink but, of course, I should compare the price with 100% fruit juice from the
supermarket. Most ‘fruit juice’ is indeed diluted and contains lots of added refined sugar and has little to do with fruit juice.


Mick also likes a daily glass of milk. He drinks about 2 litres of milk a week.

I knew that some people were getting their milk straight from the farmer. But we live in the city and we have no car. 

How was that gonna work then?

I looked on the internet and found several milk trucks selling milk on weekly markets in Antwerp. I found one on the Friday market and a different one on the Saturday market. The Saturday market is really nearby so that was ideal! We decided to try it.

Mick bought 2 glass bottles and went to the milk truck on Saturday. The milk is – as you would expect – much better than anything you find in the supermarket.

The problem is, the milk doesn’t always last a week. And if I decide to cook something with milk (like béchamel sauce for instance), we need more than 2 litres. I will still need to buy milk from the shop.

Also, the milk truck people are a small local business and they are not always there. But recently, the town council has announced that the Thursday market is going to move closer to home. We will check out if it has a milk truck. If you look for solutions, they will present themselves to you.


The egg boxes were also an eyesore. OK, they are not plastic, but most of them are also only used once.

Whilst dropping off some donations at the Oxfam shop, I picked up a sustainable plastic egg box (yes on this occasion I traded cardboard for plastic!).

The milk truck (as well as any greengrocer in the neighbourhood) sells loose eggs. You can always bring your own box. The eggs from the milk truck are also much better than those from the shop.

Environmental impact

We used around 100 litres of milk a year and about 100 litres of fruit juice. That is at least 200 cartons or plastic bottles.

Our new solution brings down the waste almost to zero:
For the fruit juice, Mick buys his oranges when he needs them. They are always available. The orange skins go in the green container.

For the milk, we try to buy 2 litres per week but the mild truck is not always there and 2 litres a week isn’t always enough. Hopefully, we can find another milk truck soon.

For the eggs, there is no more waste. Loose eggs are available anywhere.
Big win!

Financial impact

The fruit press was a one-off investment of 80 EUR. The fruit juice we used to buy was a lot cheaper than freshly squeezed fruit juice. But if you compare 100% fruit juice, or freshly squeezed fruit juice, like some shops now offer, the price is more or less the same, albeit sometimes difficult to compare because the price of oranges varies from season to season. In Carrefour one litre of freshly squeezed fruit juice is 4.99 EUR all through the year.

The glass bottles cost us 10 EUR for two. The milk from the truck costs 0.90 EUR per bottle. The price of milk varies from around 0.60 to 1.50 EUR and even more depending on the type of milk you buy and the shop you buy it in. 0.90 EUR is not too much.

The price of eggs is mostly the same, whether you buy them with box or without. The egg box cost me 0.50 EUR at Oxfam.

Space impact

The oranges may take up a bit more space in the fruit bowl than the fruit juice carton, but we have less waste and it looks pretty.

The milk bottles take up just as much space as the carton as do the eggs and we have less waste.

Time and effort impact

The weekly trip to the milk truck is an extra effort. The oranges and eggs we buy during our weekly shopping. The oranges can be carried in the reusable vegetable bags.

So overall more effort but better quality and less plastic, hardly any financial impact. I consider this to be a win.

Next: the bathroom shelf, stay tuned.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Benchmarking: I dug into the bins again.

The production and recycling of plastic is heavy on the environment. I am not talking about plastic in general but single-use plastic. Plastic is a very useful product for all sorts of applications.

But it is not just the production and recycling that is heavy on the environment. I just learnt that plastic waste releases greenhouse gases whilst decomposing. So those of you who think plastic and climate change are separate things are wrong!

And that is just about the greenhouse gas effect, let’s not forget the horrible sights of waste on beaches and all animals suffering from plastic that has ended up in their habitats.

The good news is that reducing our consumption of plastic (especially single use) is something we can all do, and I am about to prove that to you.

You may remember one of my first blogposts, a snapshot of all our household waste that I had measured in September 2017.

Well, I did it again. I held on to all of our waste for an entire month. I wanted to measure the impact of our efforts. We haven’t finished yet. There is still so much more to do, but I wanted to know where we stand at this moment.

Again, I didn’t keep all waste. For instance, I didn’t hold on to food leftovers, Q-tips, kitchen towel, tissues and well… toilet paper.

Furthermore, this is just a snapshot, rather than an average. Different seasons produce different waste and sometimes you go through unusual circumstances such as exam periods, lots of work in the office, preparing for holidays and renovations. These periods can come with more waste, just because, for instance, buying ready meals is more convenient than having to cook for yourself!

While I was collecting waste and saw this amount of plastic growing every day, I didn’t expect the impact of our efforts to be as big as they were.

If you want to know what exactly we did and you don’t want to read all the blogposts again, there is a bullet point list of things you can do at the end of this blogpost.

OK, here we go:

2017 kg/month
2019 kg/month
Difference in percentage

Cardboard and paper
of which unsolicited mail
food packaging
drink cartons
coffee pods

This time, all of our unrecyclable waste of one month fitted into one (1!) 45 gram bin bag. That is 540 grams/year (12 bin bags) instead of 2,340 grams (52 bin bags).

So this is the result of what exactly?

·         Food leftovers are kept out of the bin and are being composted;
·         We have tackled and will keep tackling all unsolicited mail;
·       We don’t buy bottled water anymore. We filter tap water with carbon sticks and we bought a soda stream for soda water;
·         We don’t buy fruit and vegetables in plastic anymore; meat and fish remain a challenge;
·       We squeeze our own fruit juice and fill our own glass bottles at the milk truck every week. In January the truck didn’t show up. That’s why there were still some drink cartons in the statistics. I am looking for a second milk provider;
·         We stopped using coffee pods, at home and in the office (just me);
·       We don’t buy beer cans anymore. We buy beer in glass bottles and take the empties back to the shop.

The two cans in the January statistics are cans I found on my doorstep. They were in fact not ours. I also used 2 cans of corn, which I normally buy in a glass jar, but they were not available when I needed them. Well, I say “needed”. We mostly only think we “need” stuff. Very often this  is actually just “want now”. I could have made something else instead.

So step by step, over a period of 16 months, we have managed to reduce our waste by more than 75%.

And there is still so much more that we can do. I am being fed ideas by people who read my blog - thanks for that! You know who you are.

If you want to find out what these are: stay tuned!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Coffee: the best result yet!

We can’t deny it: coffee is important in most people’s lives… and in ours. I wake up a lot more slowly without it.

We used to have not one but two Nespresso machines. One at home, one in the office. I loved it. But I’ve figured out lately that I don’t really need Nespresso in the morning. I need caffeine.

The waste that comes with Nespresso (or any other pod coffee) had been bothering me more and more. On a monthly basis, my husband and I would use between 180 to 240 capsules. Per year that would be between 2190 and 2920 capsules!

I sent Nespresso an e-mail asking them how many of the capsules sold are actually returned. (I did not ask them how many of the returned capsules are actually recycled). They referred me to their marketing manager. I re-sent the e-mail to her. No answer! I have to assume that not many are actually returned. On the internet, in an interview with Nespresso I found that it was 25% in 2018, up from 20% in 2016. It’s a start but it is also nowhere near good enough because aluminium can be recycled and Nespresso hands out recycling bags, but they do not encourage recycling in any way.

And the recycling bag itself is made of…. right: plastic!

To their credit, Nespresso is lobbying hard for used capsules to be put in the blue PMD (plastic, metal and drinking cartons) recycling bag but so far, I don’t think it’s allowed.

Assuming that we drink 3 to 4 coffees a day each, that is 6 to 8 pods a day (for the both of us).  A pod holds 5 grams of coffee. Per month, that is 900 to 1200 grams of coffee per month.

Consumption of 6 to 8 pods a day costs 65 to 85 EUR per month. Any alternative will be cheaper than that! Besides, you can order Nespresso online, but they will not send you any recycling bags! For that, you have to go to the shop. Also, you have to take your recycling bags to a collection point, as they do not accept them in the shop.

We decided to try out a couple of alternatives. My husband likes his espresso. I like my long coffee. I decided to go for a French coffee press, he decided to go for an espresso Bialetti percolator. You can use both systems with just coffee; no pods of any kind!!

The glass of my French coffee press broke within a year so instead of replacing it I started drinking my husband’s Bialetti coffee, which is fine. I just add some boiling water to it to get my long coffee. So we both use that now.

The small Bialetti coffee maker cost us 30 EUR. I bought a large one for my husband for Christmas, it was 78 EUR but the lady from the shop said that it was one for life. The Nespresso machine is most definitely not! My first machine broke down after 6 years.

In that same coffee shop (luckily just around the corner), you can buy freshly ground coffee. You can take your own container to the shop and they will fill it with beans, weigh it, then grind it on the spot, straight from the original hessian sack into your container.

They sell different types of coffee. We have tried the following:
Felix (that’s the shopkeeper’s name) and super Felix cost 14 EUR/kilo.
Ethiopian coffee costs 16 EUR/kilo.

We get through ½ kilo per week. That is more than Nespresso but it is considerably cheaper. That takes the coffee bill up to 28 to 32 EUR per month. That is less than half the price of Nespresso. 

In the office, they have recently installed a Nespresso machine. The used pods are picked up by Nespresso. That’s good. But what happens next, I am still not sure about. 
Even though by going back to Nespresso in the office I had to admit that I love it, I have decided today to stop using it. I bought myself a thermos flask that I will fill in the morning with Bialetti coffee and take with me. I can be totally waste-free on coffee so that is what I will do. And even if that means I have to buy more coffee, it will still be cheaper than Nespresso.

For other coffee making solutions such as Senseo, I refer to my blogpost on teabags and all the chemicals that are used to make teabags, in this case the Senseo coffee pods. The same goes for coffee filters. If you don’t want to ingest pesticides, stay away from them!

Environmental impact
We’ve dropped all Nespresso pods and their cardboard box and replaced it by a zero waste – I repeat zero waste – solution from a shop nearby. We take an empty 500g container once a week and they fill it.
Big win!

Financial impact
We purchased 2 Bialetti coffee makers but they are for life. That is a one-off investment of 30 and 78 EUR. I may have to replace the rubber ring in the middle every now and then but it is a lot cheaper than having to replace your Nespresso machine. And it makes excellent coffee; millions of Italians swear by the Bialetti, and they should know.
The coffee we buy now is at least 50% cheaper than the one we used to buy.
Big win!

Space impact
Our two Bialettis take up less space than the Nespresso machines.
The coffee takes up less space than the Nespresso pods.
Big win!

Time and effort impact
Instead of having to go into town to the Nespresso shop (because we did want the recycling bags), we can now go to a local shop and buy it there.
Furthermore, we do not have to take the used pods to the recycling collection point anymore.
Big win!

Next: milk, eggs and fruit juice.