Thursday, 24 February 2011

A Good Day for Drying Washing

Wasn't it a lovely day today.  I was lucky to be home to enjoy the sunshine.  I spent several hours gardening and enjoying being serenaded by the birds.   I also managed to get some washing dry, but I was a bit late taking it in.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Weight of Rubbish

I had the same bag (made from recycled plastic) in my kitchen bin for a fortnight and with the rubbish from other bins in the house inside it, it weighed about 3 pounds, or around 1 kilo for those of you who use 21st century weights.

As I can't see any great merit in weighing my rubbish weekly and doubt it is a terribly interesting subject for readers of this blog I shall consider that my average rubbish output is 1-2 lbs a week when I am on my own most of the time - hubby was here for a few days last week.

I shall continue to look at reasonable ways in which I might be able to cut down on my own personal rubbish output, but feel that it is not an unreasonable amount.  Of course if the whole family were here producing the same amount of rubbish each that could put our average weekly rubbish output up to 8 pounds a week, but that would not be excessive.

However the amount of rubbish other members of my family produce is beyond my control, but I can continue to keep an eye on what I send to landfill and perhaps some of that will rub off on them in time.

Karen Cannard's Rubbish Diet has reminded me that I need to deal with my junk mail, so I'll tell you more about that soon . . . -ish.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

What Price, an Old Person's Life?

Old age is a state of mind

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately at the appalling neglect and general bad treatment many old people suffer when in hospital.  I was particularly interested to hear a Southampton hospital mentioned.  I could be wrong, but I assume it was the Southampton General where my aunt spent 5 weeks last Autumn, it doesn't have a good reputation locally.  It was a very distressing time for all her friends and family as we didn't really know why she needed to be there and she didn't seem to be getting treated very well.  Her essential medication, which keeps her Parkinson's under control was not given to her for two or three days after she was moved onto a ward after being discharged from A&E, so she was shaking violently for several days until she was given her medicine and it had time to take affect.

She only needed to be in hospital because the manager of the Care Home she had just moved into felt she couldn't cope with her and refused to have her back after my aunt's broken wrist had been dealt with.  She told the hospital that her medication needed adjusting as my aunt was falling over several times a day and this was the second time in three or four days that she'd been taken to A&E.

The hospital did nothing until we rang up after about a week to find out what was happening.  Then we had to telephone the Parkinson's Nurse ourselves as they didn't have the gumption to find out her number - she is the only one in their area.  A week or so later we found out that someone had contradicted her instructions and cancelled the visit from the Psychiatrist.  I think it was my sister who discovered this and pleaded with them to re-book the visit.

The long and the short of it was that although promptly sorting out the correct dose and type of medication my aunt needed and assessing her mental state could have resulted in her being discharged from hospital several weeks earlier, it all seemed to much trouble and without us continually phoning or seeking out staff to speak to when visiting her we felt she would quite possibly have been left in a corner and forgotten. Friends and family members also helped her to drink and also gave her food as she always seemed ravenous. She was unable to eat or drink without assistance.

She was on several different orthopaedic wards during her stay, because she had broken her wrist, but that was not the reason she was in hospital.  The wards with mostly older patients was where she was treated the worst.  When she was moved to a ward with a wider age range we noticed an improvement in the attitudes of the nurses.

This seems to reflect other people's experiences.  It seems that for some reason the staff on wards for the elderly seem to lack the motivation or basic human compassion to give basic care to these vulnerable patients, many of whom are able to do little for themselves and cannot even speak up for themselves.

I wonder why this is.  Is this simply a reflection of the general attitude of our society?  I read in my mother-in-laws' paper that some women over 50 find that men don't seem to see them any more and tend to ignore them, yet 50 isn't very old these days, it is merely middle aged.

There is also a tendency in our society to only value anything for it's monetary value.  The biodiversity and great benefits our woodlands and forests bring to us seem to have been forgotten by our government eager to raise money.  People who don't earn a wage and pay taxes such as stay at home mums and many elderly folk don't seem to be found as interesting as high-flying executives earning big bucks.

Another problem raised during discussions about how we treat our old people in hospital was that there seems to be too much emphasis on the medical treatment and technical side of thing to the extent that the humanity and human needs of the people undergoing the treatment becomes lost from view.

I wonder also if the staff at some of these hospitals are overly stressed and perhaps undervalued, demoralised and even demeaned by there over-stressed, target-driven superiors?

Whatever the cause, we cannot consider ourselves to be truly civilised if we continue to allow our old people to be treated in this way.

Do you see all old people the same, or do you appreciate that people age differently and there are many active and capable people in their 70's and even 80's.

How do you view those old people who are frail and vulnerable?   How would you like your parents to be treated when they reach that great age, if your parents are still alive?  How would you like to be treated yourself when you reach that stage in life?  Could that change the way you treat the elderly?

Fish Fact-Finding Foray

The other day I looked at the Waitrose website and decided that the range of fish they sold was disappointingly limited when it came to the sustainable variety, although I know they do make efforts to source sustainable fish. 

However, when I passed the fish counter in my local branch I was pleased to see pollack fillets on display.  Not wanting them this week, I asked how often they had them and was told that they ask for them every day and get a box most days, but do tend to sell out fairly early. 

The availability of unsmoked mackerel seems to be a bit less sporadic, but again it tends to sell out fairly early.

So, in this area at least, it seems the 'less popular fish' are proving to be very much in demand and you have to be early if you want to be sure of procuring some.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Hugh's Fish Fight: view the programmes

a shoal of herring

 Channel 4 have put all 3 of the Hugh's Fish Fight programmes on 4oD, which means they are available to view over the next 3 months, if you missed them on TV or want to see them again.

I did fancy a bit of salmon on Friday, so I went for the organic option from Waitrose's fish counter. It was a lot paler than the salmon I am used to, and I am glad to say, less fatty, so definitely a pleasant experience. However, this does not seem to have been a particularly sustainable or healthy choice according to this article in the Guardian.

After watching the Hugh's Fish Fight programmes I shall see if I can purchase some mackerel or herring fillets.  I agree these fish tastes good, but I am one of those people who is put off by the bones.  Growing up in North Germany my dad ate a lot of herring in his younger day and pickled herring for New Year's Eve was a delicacy either as Rollmops or as a herring and beetroot salad.  I've not been one for carrying on that tradition, I'm afraid.

For more information on the sustainability of fish see The End of the Line.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Week One of the Rubbish Diet Challenge (Part Two)

I'm afraid I've been quite tired this week and fairly busy, so blogging has taken a back seat.  The good news is that I think that I have nearly finished my NVQ in Information and Library Services.  I'm not sure how much good it will do me, but I shall be very glad not to have to spend any more time on it.

I noticed that the first week of the Rubbish Diet Challenge has several aspects, which is why I've divided it into several parts.  If I were starting this challenge from scratch, having never before given any thought to the rubbish I created, I suspect that I would need at least a week for each aspect.

If you want to try this yourself as a complete beginner where reducing waste is concerned, I would suggest you see each part as a stage to complete and don't worry if it takes you a few weeks or even a couple of months to make the suggestions part of your life.

So, I thought I'd look at 'eking things out' or, in other words, not using more than you really need, which is another sensible way to reduce rubbish.  Karen issues a further set of 10 mini challenges to encouraged us to be less wasteful.

1. The first is a reminder to only use a pea sized amount of toothpaste when we brush our teeth.  It is good economical sense, too, as toothpaste is not cheap.   If you are concerned that your plastic toothpaste tube will end up in landfill, Weleda do sell toothpaste in metal tubes, and other companies may do, too.  Try your local health food shop or search the Internet to see what is available.

2.  Karen suggests using less shower gel by applying a smaller amount on a sponge or flannel.  Last year I decided I didn't need to use shower gel at all.  We are able to recycle the plastic containers, but I know it takes a fair bit of energy and resources to recycle plastic and as a rule the pots are made from brand new plastic.  Also, I think I heard that plastic can't be recycled continuously as it tends to degrade.   So I now use wonderfully scented soap, which is as natural as I can find, instead of shower gel.  There are some lovely natural soaps on the market, so who needs shower gel really?

3. Reduce the sugar in your tea or coffee by a little each time, if you use it.  This  will be healthier and reduce your sugar bill.  I'm not sure how much impact it will have on the environment.  I rarely have sugar in my tea but then I don't drink tea or coffee as a rule.

4. Karen recommends making fruit juice go further by diluting it with water: ¾ parts fruit juice to ¼ part water.  I tend to dilute my fruit juice with half to a third water.  Recently I've started buying juice in glass bottles rather than tetrapak cartons as glass takes less energy and resources to recycle.

Equally Karen suggests that if you use squash regularly use less concentrate each time to gradually reduce the strength. It’s kinder on your teeth and if you’ve got kids, you’ll save stacks of cash.

5. Karen reminds us to try to avoid food waste, which is good for our purses as well as the planet. Her tip is to start saving leftovers and stretching out the portion sizes of each meal.

This can be difficult with young children, but don't feel you must feed them up.  Be wise to what they eat and if they have small appetites, give them small portions.  Make sure they don't fill up with junk food between coming home and eating dinner.  Have healthy snacks like fresh and or dried fruit available.  If they don't want them they probably aren't very hungry.

As Karen also says, there are lots more ideas for avoiding food waste @ Love Food: Hate Waste

6.  On the subject of cheese Karen says,
"Grate onto sandwiches instead of using slices. It’s a great way of making a popular product last longer and fewer plastic wrappers to throw in your bin. You can also freeze grated cheese for later use, so don’t just throw away any lumps that look like they are past it. Grate it and pop it in the freezer."

I'm trying not to eat much cheese or other dairy products as I seem to have less earache as a result.  I am eating more hummus, which comes in small, recyclable plastic pots.  I'm hoping to make a batch myself at some point, so as to have less plastic to send to recycling.

7. Filter Coffee.  I don't drink coffee at all, but if you do you might like Karen's suggestion, which is that
"instead of filling a cafetière or coffee machine for just one person, use a one-cup filter instead. You’ll use less coffee each time and fewer granules will go to waste – if you’ve got a garden, don’t forget to save your coffee grounds to put to good use elsewhere, either in the compost or as a slug and snail repellant around plants."

8. With regard to meat Karen says,
"Don’t feel you have to use the meat you buy to cook up just one dish. Put half the amount aside into a sealed container and store in the fridge\freezer for the next meal. Bulk out recipes with carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes and rice and a healthy selection of vegetables or pulses. Not only will you save on hard-to-recycle meat containers, but with the rise in meat prices you’ll be able to enjoy more healthy meals on less money. Also with their farts and belches, cows have managed to get a reputation for producing a lot of methane that is damaging to the environment, so cutting back on your beef could help in more ways than one."

I agree that it's a good idea to eat less meat, however, eating grass fed beef and organic meat is better for the environment than meat fed on soya and high concentrations of grain.   If you are concerned about the ethics of eating meat you will probably find Simon Fairlie's book Meat: A Benign Extravagance of interest.  I believe he argues that good farming practices when raising animals for meat can be good for the environment as well as giving the animals themselves a good life. The book seems to have changed George Monbiot's thinking on the matter quite substantially.

9. About flowers Karen says
"if your cut flowers are looking droopy, don’t just bung them in the rubbish bin or even the compost. Instead, cut their stems, give them some fresh water and mix in a teaspoon of sugar to perk them up. Remove dead flowers and replace them with fresh foliage from the garden. They’ll brighten up your house for a while longer and will save you buying more on your next shopping trip. The plastic wrapper will be one less thing to throw away."

I don't tend to throw flowers away until they are no longer presentable.  I hadn't thought of adding anything from the garden to bulk them out when I've had to remove a few dead ones, though.  I'll try to remember that a bit later in the year when there might be something suitable.

10. Lastly, Karen has lots of good advice on the subject of paper:
Reduce the amount of print-outs and if you really do need to print something, use both sides. And if you find that you’re always getting through notebooks at the speed of light, why not make your own from old print-outs, letters you get in the post or even greetings cards.

Now is the time to think about how you can make better use of the rest of the paper that comes into your house and reduce it wherever possible. If your household is pretty average like mine, you’ll be getting through about 250 kilograms per person each year, in the form of toilet roll, magazines, greetings cards, books and mail alone.

That’s one tonne of paper for just one family of four, which equates to 17 trees. In the UK only 42% of this is recycled. The rest goes to landfill. I can’t help but think that’s one heck of a lot of trees to bury in the ground.

So you can do your bit by simply reusing envelopes, using greetings cards as note-cards or for craft activities, sharing magazines with your friends and buying recycled products whenever you can. This way, you’ll save money as well as reducing the amount of paper that ends up in your bins. Given that 70% of paper still comes from unsustainable sources, by reducing your dependency on paper and reusing or recycling what you do use, you’ll be helping the environment too.

I must admit I have a problem with paper.  I do try to use both sides as much as possible and am trying not to bring too much into the house, but it still feels like I'm drowning in the stuff at times.  This is partly because I was in the habit of printing off all sorts of 'useful' information at one time.  As most of it isn't useful any more I have got rid of a lot of it into the recycling box, but there is still quite a bit left to work through as well as the paper that still manages to find it's way into the house.

Recycling paper is good and using recycled paper is better, but using less paper is best of all as recycling still uses energy and resources.  I believe a lot of water is used in the recycling of paper for a start.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Week One of the Rubbish Diet Challenge

After the preliminary weigh-in I was ready to embark on Week One of the Rubbish Diet Challenge and the process of slimming my bin.

In Karen Cannard's guide to reducing our rubbish she tells us that the best way to reduce the amount of rubbish we put in our bins is to bring less rubbish home.  This may seem obvious, but it does require a state of continued vigilance to realise that yummy cream cake is packaged in a non-recyclable plastic bubble before you have it home with the contents eaten and now the only place for it is the dustbin, destined for landfill.  There are many other tempting products sitting on supermarket shelves waiting for you to pick them up without realising how much rubbish you will be left with.

Don't be in any doubt about it you are paying for all that fancy packaging rubbish, which will then clog up your bin and put up your council tax to pay those nice people with their big lorry to cart all that rubbish off to the landfill site.

I won't say I'm never caught out by the over-packaged tempting item, but it doesn't happen too often these days.  It took me a few years,  rather than a few weeks to get into the habit of seeing how much un-recyclable rubbish I was buying, so don't give up if it takes you a while to adapt.  I tended to buy things like that as treats anyway, so if you depend largely on ready made meals and desserts it could take you even longer, but you will get there in the end, if you want to.

Karen issued this mini challenge for the week, so I thought I'd see how I'd done so far:

MINI CHALLENGE: 10 easy ways to avoid creating rubbish and save money

1. Take a reusable bag or two when you go shopping. If you haven’t got one already, go and treat yourself or make a few home-made bags with friends. If you do end up with a few plastic bags, try reusing them first before you have to recycle them.

This is something I'm pleased to say I do nearly all the time now.  I have one or two lightweight fold up bags in my handbag and keep a couple of sets of Hessian bags plus a few strong plastic carrier bags that must all be a few years old now, in my boot (trunk).  One set is plenty if you are well-organised and put them straight back in the boot of the car once they are unpacked, but if you aren't as we weren't too begin with, have two sets to increase your chances of having some to hand when you go shopping.

2. Hide the Clingfilm and aluminium foil and use reusable containers instead. You’ll save money in the long-run because it’s cheaper to buy containers that can be reused than rely on single use products. If you do use disposable products such as foil, depending on what you use if for you could wash and reuse it.

I haven't used clingfilm for years, but I do use aluminium foil occasionally, and with a fairly clear conscience.  I buy recycled aluminium foil and I try to wash it and recycle it when I've used it, but if it's very dirty hubby sometimes puts it in the bin because he doesn't want to wash it.

3. Start making packed lunches for work lunches or days out. It’s much cheaper than buying pre-packed lunches and you can say goodbye to those fiddly plastic sandwich containers.

I often make a packed lunch when I have the time, although I'm beginning to think a pasta or rice salad keeps better overnight if I don't have time to make my sandwiches fresh in the morning.

4. Ditch bottled water in favour of tap water and take refillable bottles whenever you go out. You won’t just save money, you’ll save on the amount of plastic bottles that may not be recycled properly when you are out -and-about. These days you can even buy insulated bottles that keep drinks chilled. When at work, use a glass instead of a plastic cup when filling up at a drinks machine.

I do this as much as possible now.

5. If you love take-away coffees buy a trendy refillable coffee cup for when you’re on the go. Fill it up with fresh coffee at home so you can drink en-route to work and do the same at the end of the day to help you cope with the rush-hour home. Not only will you save cash, but if you normally buy one coffee a day, you’ll be saving at least 200 paper cups per year.

I don't drink coffee or regular tea, so that's another temptation removed.

6. Takeaways may taste great, but it can be tempting to order too much. Save money by reducing the amount you order and share with someone else. If you haven’t got a partner, ring up a friend and make it a social occasion. Just order one main dish and cook the rice at home. That’s two meals for the price of one and fewer containers too.

I'm not a fan of takeaways.

7. Dig out your old printer cartridges and save pounds by refilling them instead of buying new ones ( If you are in the UK telephone 0800 18 33 800 to find your nearest Cartridge World store or visit, No longer will you have to worry about struggling to open the hard plastic packaging that often comes with printer cartridges.

We have a laser printer, but we can send our cartridges off to be recycled and do so.

8. Start saying no to free samples, especially toiletries in little plastic containers that will just gather dust in your bathroom. They may be free but could be tricky to recycle further down the line, and do you really want them anyway?

I don't remember when I was last offered any of these.

9. If you love salad, plant some lettuce seedlings now. They should be fully grown in time for your zero waste week challenge and will save you heaps in bagged salads and fewer plastic bags to worry about.

Lettuce doesn't grow well in Winter, but if you can start them off in frost free conditions you could sow some seed towards the end of this month.  I'm hoping to do so nice and early this year and keep a succession of lettuces growing by sowing fresh seed every 2 weeks.

10. If you’re a chocoholic, switch your regular snack bar in a flimsy wrapper for one of the larger bars in a paper and foil wrap. Savour small helpings and make it last, knowing that you can recycle the packaging.

I do succumb to a couple of nut bars in plastic wrappers and or packets of  crisps most weeks.  I mean to back some healthy flapjacks with seeds and raisins, but I haven't got round to it yet. On the other hand, if I fancy a packet of crisps when I'm at home I often make popcorn instead.

What about you, how would you do with the above challenge?

Well, I weighed my week's rubbish again yesterday, and this week it was definitely 3 pounds rather than not quite 2 and I'd removed all the plastic bags that said they were made of recyclable plastic no. 4 aka Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE).  Looks like I'll need to try a little harder this week.