Monday 20th July

bamboo strawsDid you know straws are one of the top 10 types of rubbish picked up during coastline clean-ups by the Ocean Conservancy group in the US. Here in NZ, 72% of the rubbish picked up by Sustainable Coastlines is single-use plastics.

I talked to a marine scientist from Massey University recently who said it’s common to find plastic in the stomachs of dead marine turtles. They eat the plastic thinking it’s food, and then it can’t pass through their digestive systems. Isn’t that awful!

I’m lucky to have two alternatives to plastic straws at home – both given to me by different friends who visited Bali recently. I love them both. One is a set of glass straws, which are smooth and cool to drink with – perfect for a smoothie. The other is a set of bamboo straws, which are incredibly light and tough, and made by nature for the job. Both are washable and usable for many years, and so much nicer to use than plastic straws.

Straws are one of the Big Four identified by the Plastic Free July organisers as the easiest way to reduce your plastic usage. I have to confess that a couple have slipped by me this month. Taking the kids out for a drink, I forgot that a juice always comes with a straw. Next time we’ll have to get in first and tell the bar-tender no straws please. If I’m really onto it, I might even have a couple of bamboo straws tucked away in my handbag.

PS If you’re interested in the impact of plastic on turtles, this Sunday episode “Death by Plastic” is very sobering.

Wednesday 15th July

Winter is a really sociable time in Wanaka with lots of friends and relatives arriving in town for the skiing plus lots of winter birthdays. For one pot-luck dinner this week, I made a good old retro pavlova, covered in mandarin segments and kiwifruit. Pavlova is the best way I know to use up egg whites – and I always end up with a couple when I make mayonnaise.

One or two egg whites isn’t much good for anything, so I just pop them into the freezer until I’ve got six for a pavlova. People often seem to be scared of making pavlovas, but this Annabel Langbein recipe has always been fail-proof for me.

Before starting, I popped in to the supermarket to get some sugar. I usually buy caster sugar for baking because it’s a finer texture and mixes in more easily but of course it was all wrapped in plastic. Luckily you can buy standard plain sugar in a paper bag. Yay!

pavlovaI took it home and made the pav with it. Before baking, you could feel that the meringue was a bit grainy, but once it was cooked, you really couldn’t notice the difference. Normal sugar is cheaper than caster sugar (why is this? Does it cost more to make sugar with smaller grains?), so not only do you avoid plastic but you also have a few more cents to spend on something else.

If you want to stick to the recipe, you can blitz normal sugar in a food processor or coffee grinder for a couple of minutes before adding it to the egg whites. You’ll get a finer sugar similar to caster sugar, but it’s a pretty noisy few minutes. To be honest, after the way the last pav turned out, I think I’ll just keep using standard sugar.

Of course, you do need cream for a pavlova. I bought a bottle of cream. It was in plastic. Sigh….


Sun 12th July

cashewsIt’s tricky being plastic free when you’re not in charge of the shopping. I have to give big ups here to my family for getting on board Plastic Free July. Yesterday I sent my partner and son off to the organic shop to get some nuts, green peas and dried fruit – without plastic. Unfortunately that’s harder than it sounds, because although their bags are paper on the outside, the inside of them is lined with plastic. Not great for Plastic Free July!

Also not great for for recycling, because the bags are made from two different materials which shouldn’t be recycled together.

So the boys headed off to the shops with some of the paper & plastic bags saved from last time to refill. A little bit tricky – because there is no bulk bin outlet here, and the shop they were going to has everything pre-measured into bags. The solution they found was to buy the pre-measured quantity, and then tip it into our bags so the shop could refill the other ones and sell them. As they hadn’t been used, they were happy to do that. Nice work boys!

Plus it makes cooking more interesting, because none of the labels match the contents of the bags!

Friday 10th July

My sister is arriving today, so I thought I’d make a tofu and pumpkin laksa tonight. It’s not the same without bean sprouts, so I had to give in and buy some in plastic today. I couldn’t think of any way to get the hundreds of tiny fragile sprouts home, especially when they’re already packed in a ziplock bag. But to make up, I started some mung beans going in my sprouting jar so I won’t have to buy any next week.
If you haven’t grown your own sprouts before, it’s super easy and a reminder of the amazing life process which happens when seeds and water connect. The best place to buy seeds or beans to sprout is at a health food or organic shop, so you know they haven’t been chemically treated or heat-treated to stop them germinating. Kings Seeds also sell seeds specifically for sprouting, but as with everything in their gorgeous catalogue, it’s best to not get too carried away and to start small.

Scatter a thin layer of the seed or bean (about 4 tablespoons) into the bottom of a jar. I find an agee jar is perfect, and I have a sprouting lid which makes things easy. It’s a plastic (yes plastic!) ring that screws onto the jar with a wire mesh inside. But the good thing is that it’s reusable from many years and the plastic doesn’t come into contact with the sprouts. You can just use a sieve, but the lid is more convenient. Kings Seeds also sell the rings, or you can buy sprouting kits at health food shops.

Add cold water (I use filtered water) and let the seeds/beans soak for 10 minutes. Then tip the water out through the lid or the sieve. Keep the jar on the kitchen bench and rinse and drain the seeds/bean twice a day. Keep the jar upside down on an angle so that they don’t end up in a puddle.

After a few days, you’ll see the seeds or beans start growing tails. When they are long enough (3-5 days), put them in a light place for day to green up a bit. My mung bean sprouts are never as long as the ones you buy in the supermarket and they are greener, but they do taste fresher.

Rinse them one last time and drain on a paper towel. Remove moisture by patting them with another paper towel. They are ready to eat! You can keep them in the fridge in an airtight container on a dry paper towel for a week or so.

PS I turns out my sister doesn’t even like bean sprouts, so she would never have missed them. I should have just left them out!

Tuesday 7th July

It’s school holidays so I was lucky to get a day up the mountain today with my family and various friends. On the way home, I dragged the whole ski crew in to the organic shop to stock up on some fruit and veggies. The spur of the moment shop is always a bit more tricky to do without plastic. A couple of reusable Enviro-sacs hidden in the glove-box of my partner’s car always save the day. You know those presents you give someone that you like more than they do – yes, his cute robot bag was one of those presents.

Fruit and vegetables are pretty easy, because I always buy them loose and pop them in the basket to weigh them when I pay for them. But I was a bit stuck on the herbal tea. The brand I love comes in a beautiful looking cardboard and metal container. Although it looks gorgeous (and isn’t plastic), it can’t be recycled because it’s made from two different materials.

The cardboard container also contains a cellophane bag. Cellophane is made from wood pulp but it’s highly processed, and I never know exactly what I should do with it. Burn it, recycle it, compost it? I usually end up putting it in the rubbish (let me know if anyone has a better solution).

herbal teaSo, in the spirit of minimising packaging for Plastic Free July, I decided to buy some loose leaf herbal teas out of the jars. Usually they sell them in ziplock plastic bags, but we found some brown paper bags at the back of the shop to use instead. As paper bags take more energy to make than plastic, I’ve kept the two bags so I can use them again (on a day when I’m a bit more organised).

Next time the shop is happy to tare a container that I bring myself, which means that they zero the scale with your container on it. Sorted! I took my herbs and roots home and filled up my empty herbal tea container – saving money as well as packaging.

Read Gina’s Blog from Week 1