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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

How it went


Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 (nervously testing the homemade oatcake) and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April (pic to the left shows what we were left with that had to be binned). Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is the final entry on how it’s going:

Successes
1 The #2.75 coffee seals have got our coffee volcano pot back into action – and my friend Debbie’s.
2 Unexpectedly over the past month we’ve probably halved our food bills (I wasn’t running a strict tally), simply by avoiding packaging. We’ve also eaten better quality food and I don’t think even one tin of baked beans has been used.
3 Finding enthusiastic homes for things we don't want, or just can't fit into our house. We lugged things to the charity shop (which doesn't guarantee a new home), but prefered to use Freecycle and we also put 15 pieces of furniture into an auction.
4 Finding new uses for things (ie, reusing) is very creative. We all loved the buzz that feeling of invention gives you. Lola started sewing clothes from material scraps for her Sylvanian dolls and Nell was regularly in the cupboard looking for sellotape to transform something or other.
5 Every now and again we broke our own rules & it’s surprising how liberating those moments of rebellion can be!

Failures
1 We love eating cheese and biscuits – but our homemade oat cakes (see pic), although delicious at first, went soft in less than 24 hours. I think crackers might sneak back on our shopping list.
2 A huge cardboard box was ruined by a child weeing in it (!), therefore unfit for storing stuff and I reckon a reason for recycling.
3 Friends came to dinner and I didn’t brief them enough – so the left over risotto scrapings were tipped into our (out of action) rubbish bin rather than saved for the hens. I can’t believe I still know people who don’t automatically look for a compost bin…
4 At the end of the month we had a mini bag for the dustman. It was very light (I plan to weigh and itemise it, but not right now).

Abject failures
1 Those newspapers – at least one is bought each day, often two. We’d started off saying we would be waste free and avoid buying newspapers, but no one was prepared to go to the library (or even online) to read them. This shows our age I reckon. People under 30 would rarely waste their money on buying a paper when there's so many free ones around...

Verdict: this was a month long experiment that has helped break some of our throwaway habits. I hope we’re going to stick to the principle of avoiding packaging (but not in such a neurotic way). All the family learnt how very easy it is to avoid the plastic bag giveaway in shops and how hard it is to avoid plastic around processed foods. And to think that this was a birthday present to me - thank you family!
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We'd love your comments about our month giving up waste. If you want to read all the entries click on the menu bar on the right that says A-Z No Waste.
Have you tried a family challenge? How do you cope with the mountain of stuff that comes into your home? What are your best ideas for ditching plastic wrapping? Let us know...

Toy story

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

Nell adores her little toys, but invariably some of them break. The red Spanish lady has just been reunited (thanks to a dab of Araldite) with the other bit of her torso, and so been able to retake the centre stage of our toy-strewn floor.

Verdict: if I was on a desert island I reckon glue (preferably Araldite) would be my luxury item. When you need glue, nothing else will do.

If the glove fits

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

We wash up by hand. The research says that hand washing is more wasteful of power and water than an electric dishwasher. I guess it depends how you do the dishes, and whether you leave the tap running as a rinse aid. I defy any household to avoid all washing up (how do you do saucepans, coffee pots, wooden spoons etc?) but I do admit that a washing up machine guarantees a tidier look to your kitchen as it makes sure the dirty dishes are out of sight.

It also means you don't get dishwater hands - or the problem of what to do with rubber gloves when they develop holes at the ends. As you can see from the pic we had a go reusing this leaky left hander. The cuff has been cut into rubber bands (a tip I read in The Guardian) and helps me identify the plastic jar we use to decant coffee beans into so not all my containers are filled with coffee aroma. But my star invention has to be turning the fingers of the glove into a bit of Oud (you need to watch Dr Who to know about Ouds) and stick it into the kids' dressing up box.

Verdict: Creative - yes. Beautiful - no. Useful - only if you love Dr Who or dressing up.

Volcano crisis

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

The adults need their coffee fix and our old-fashioned, Italian volcano pot that brews up deliciously is out of action. The inner seal has completely crumbled. I ask around and no one seems to know what to do. In desperation I try the Gill Wing Cookery shop on Upper Street and find you can buy a packet of replacement seals for just #2.75.

Verdict: The best of this story is not just that coffee is back on the menu, but that I was able to give my friend Debbie one of the seals so her coffee pot has also come back on to the kitchen frontline – rather than be chucked out.

Repairing sheets

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

This is the third set of sheets I’ve had to patch. (does anyone else do this???) I expect the colourful repair will last better than the bits of sheet I haven’t yet patched, but it’ll probably be another six months before it needs to be retired (aka cut into hankies and cleaning cloths).

The real pleasure isn’t mending the sheets, but using my Singer sewing machine. It was given to my mum by her grandmother (known as Lola) on mum’s 21st birthday. I think it was secondhand then which makes it close to half a century old. My mum passed the sewing machine on to me when she bought an electric model. I love this hand powered machine, and because I’m not a very ambitious seamstress find it’s perfect for my skill level.

Verdict: the only comparable tool in the house is my PC. When I switch it on I do not feel any pride, in fact I often fear the day when the built in obselesence kicks in. In contrast when I get out my mum and great grandmother’s sewing machine I delight in the wooden body and case, the old-fashioned key on a bit of string and the lovely handle that joints into a fold so it can be fitted back into the box.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Evening standards

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

The Evening Standard has just created a special green issue (4 April 2008). Reading it I discover that I am a mean green - someone who suggests taking the tube rather than a taxi, declines a skiing holiday for fear of abusing my CO2 footprint and eats everything in the fridge, even though it's mouldy.

It's upsetting that my low-impact, low maintenace (& v cheap) lifestyle is so scorned, even if it's not unexpected.
There are glam and genuine greens -identified in the ES as the authenti-greens. Key figures include David Attenborough, Tracy Worcester and Zac Goldsmith (all much loved by ES for pic opportunities). However as I've spent this month trying to find ways to create zero waste (and keep on failing) it seems fair enough to be branded a shabby, mean green.
In the spirit of gritty waste watching I add a snap of my not-sure-if-they-are-hairy-or-not legs. Home waxing is not a way to keep your home waste free. And for a woman who'd rather take her bike, than splash out on the tube I guess a visit to the salon for a pain-inducing half hour of hair removal is out of the question.
Verdict: Don't rush to treat me to this though, because if you do I'll be caculating the carbon footprint of a wax session & guarantee to find it high enough to find a new mean green cause. Surely rolling my eyes at friends' plane trips is enough?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Washing up

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

Expert after expert claims that dish washing is better done by machines. They are apparently low on water use, can be light on energy use and make more controlled demand on your hot water. Thankfully Pete and I are as one on this – we think the way we wash up is so imperfect that it’s definitely less wasteful if we do it in the sink. Everything gets air dryed on a mix of wooden dish rack and the stainless steel drainer.

When we revamped our kitchen we moved the dwarf-sized sink out of the corner and into center stage. Should we ever have a dinner party, we could take turns holding the washing up while we debate the rights and wrongs of water provision (see more at Water Aid).

We still use one or two plastic bowlfuls of water every time we wash up. In the summer this is tipped into a bucket and then goes out on the hedge or the bigger, thirstier plants. Once I even used it to douse flames on a skip fire in the street.

In the winter and also during this strange cold-warm spring (today it is snowing, two days ago it was 16C) the dirty dish water gets released down the plug hole.

Verdict: In certain countries that’s practically a criminal waste. Maybe we should use the dish water to flush the loo? At least that way it gets a second use.

Excrete stragegy

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

Anyone got any ideas what to usefully do with dog poo (seen here in the pic before it's been trodden on)? I’ve just learnt that before Thomas Crapper’s wasteful water closet invention the night soil of Islington would be sent down to Hertford to dress and fertilise the market gardens and farmland there.

More than 100 years have been wasted not dumping our dumps on the fields. Half of me thinks this is why it’s great to be living now, the other half is anxious about why have we think it is OK to flush away so many tones of poo?

Verdict: The best book on the subject is by an American, and is called Humanure. It makes even the worst ablution appear like a perfume of the gods (so long as it didn't come from a dog).

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Unwanted post

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

Thin plastic magazine wrappers continue to pour through our letter box, they are definitely waste. But I’ve discovered that they can be recycled via my workplace, Friends of the Earth. This is not as good news as it should be as clearly I’ll have to work there forever as the recycling facilities they offer is an even better draw than their continuing hold on the Employer of the Year contest.
As for local flyers, well the sign in the pic NO JUNK MAIL seems to do the trick. Loads of houses have them now and the result is we know about less pizza places, not that we eat less pizza.

Verdict: using the no junk mail (not even pizzas) is as effective and even quicker than signing up to the mail preference service to ban junk mail. It did mean that we nearly missed the Give & Get event that was held locally though because no one put a leaflet through our door.

Hairshirt? My foot!

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

Shopping requires a few change of habits, but mostly it is quite easy. Here’s three simple changes:

1 MORNING CUPPA: switching to coffee beans hasn’t been much of a hardship. Many shops sell beans and you can get fair trade, organic, whatever you want. I don’t feel bad about grinding them up with our electric grinder as we have chosen an energy supplier, Good Energy, that only provides renewable sourced electricity.

2 TOILETRIES: I found a supplier of package free loo roll at the shop Unpackaged (see pic) in Amwell Street, N1. In theory I could make moisturizer from my larder contents (or dab on a bit of oilive oil). Not everything is possible - the woman who runs Unpackaged promises me that she’s working on a way to provide toothpaste in reusable packaging.

3 SWEET TREATS: I’m choosing cake rather than biscuits (because biscuits have to be made at home these days). As for cleaning up without a napkin, that’s easy, you just lick off the stickyness then wash your hands.

Verdict: the surprising benefit of seeking out zero packaging is our shopping bills have been slashed, and we are eating more healthy food. Sometimes it is even tastier. Phew.

Slim the bin

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

We’ve found that the simplest way to stop waste going out of the house is to avoid it coming in.

Just in case we forget the bin has been taped up using a picture by Lola.

Verdict: it's fun - at any rate it's fun if you're a competitive sort of a person!

Library ticket

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

For book worms like Lola the only way to keep up with her reading habit is to visit the library regularly. The pic is of our most recent pile ready to be returned.

Although buying a book new doesn’t feel like a waste (in fact I did this just yesterday at the launch of Paul Kingsnorth’s fascinating look at local identity in Real England (Portobello Books)) it does create book mountains around our house.

Verdict: the library is brilliant. But sometimes I just can't resist buying a book. My new rule is to only buy books that I can then pass on, usually as a gift. The result is that I’m giving people presents who look positively puzzled – and forgetting to give presents to the ones who might expect it (eg, my mum).

Cat nap

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

I don’t like cats (even this cutie outside my window). I know this is surprisingly controversial and will probably alienate half the readers of this blog (OK, the other one). My main complaints are that cats kill birds, mice, do that horrible padding/clawing thing when they relax on you, spray and poo in my seed beds.

But now I have another complaint, and it’s about waste – those people who have to provide cat litter trays and are using that grey stuff. This is a mineral that has to be dug out of the countryside. It creates huge scars, brings in loads of heavy lorry traffic, and leaves the area with a whacking great hole that will end up as landfill or another quarry nature park.

And if that wasn’t enough complaints, the contents of cat litter trays are hard to dispose of (even for those people who use wood pellets).

Because of the risk of toxomoplosis CHECK SP the official advice is to put it into the rubbish bin. You’re meant to do this with dog poo as well. I’ve recently met dog owners who compost their dogs’ poo. They claim that this is OK so long as you are an expert composter who gets the temperatures up high enough to burn off the pathogens.

Verdict: my family would love a dog (the cat issue is actually solved by Nell being allergic to them, another point against the little beasts) but until I can work out how we’d sensibly deal with the daily dog mess the patter of little paws remains a dream.