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One of my favourite places to eat, as I’m sure you know by now, is Spice Alley near Sydney’s Central Station. It’s a pretty hip place – cashless transactions, recyclable paper plates, biodegradable wooden utensils – and the food is great too.

Inspired by my friend Clare, I was keen to start bringing my own cutlery with me on visits there rather than using and throwing away the disposable ones on offer. But when I looked at buying a utensil carry case, I was taken aback by the cost. I’m sure we’d all live greener lives if it wasn’t so expensive to purchase eco-friendly kit. And I figured that as we’d already made our own mesh bags, beeswax wraps, furoshiki and crocheted dishcloths, how hard could it be to sew a utensil holder?

Turns out it’s not very hard at all. Here are my lazy sewing instructions – please adapt them however you wish.

I began with a $2.80 tenegui (Japanese tea towel) from Daiso. You could use any fabric you like, but this one already had hemmed edges and the weave was thin and easy to stitch through. Plus, the designs are dead cute and very affordable. I use the same fabric for both our cloth napkins and for lining my bannetons, so I knew it was going to wash and launder well.

Each cloth is around 35cm wide by 85 – 95cm long (for $2.80, you don’t always get precision sizing).

Step 1: Cut the fabric 56cm (22″) from one short edge. If your fabric is 95cm long, that will leave you with a rough square and a long rectangle.

Step 2: Now cut the long rectangle in half length-wise. You’ll end up with two pieces each approximately 56cm x 18cm (22″ x 7″).

Step 3: Hem the unfinished edge of the square. This will be your travel napkin. I use a double hem, but you could simply overlock (serge) the edge and turn the hem under…

Step 4: Hem the two unfinished edges of one of the long halves.

Now, grab your cutlery and decide how deep you want the pockets to be. I folded my fabric up 19cm (7½”).

Pin the sides and stitch them together to form one deep pocket. I stitched through all the layers, which was easy to do as the tenegui has such an open weave.

Tip: If you’re making this from heavier fabric, you might want to do an overlocked (serged) and stitched hem rather than a double hem, so that you only have to sew through four layers of fabric rather than six. Using a longer stitch length and a strong needle helps as well.

Step 5: using a washable marker, divide the single pocket into smaller ones. To be honest, I only marked it up for the photo – when I made mine, I just  eyeballed the stitching lines.

I sewed one line down the middle first.

On the left side, I stitched another line down the middle to form two equal pockets. Then I sewed a line off-centre on the right side to form a bigger compartment for a spoon, and a smaller one for a straw.

Step 6: pop your cutlery in and check it all fits. You could also sew a tie on the outside, but I just roll mine up and pop a silicone band around it…

Ok, so it’s not a fancy quilted job with carefully finished edges and an attached tie…but that means it’s a doddle to wash, it only took ten minutes to sew, and it won’t clutter up my handbag any more than is absolutely necessary. Best of all, I didn’t pay $32 for it, and my $2.80 tenegui was enough for two utensil wraps and a matching napkin. That’s very cool, right?

As I mentioned at the start of the post, buying eco-friendly products can be an expensive exercise, especially if you’re serious about minimising single-use items. To replace paper towels, paper serviettes, plastic shopping and vegetable bags, and cling film, we use a large quantity of cloth napkins, crocheted dishcloths, beeswax wraps, furoshiki and mesh bags.

I’m not sure we’d have been able to afford everything we needed at retail prices – “green” products are a growing market and there’s a lot of profit being made at the moment. If you’re in the same boat, I’d encourage you to make your own. Here are all the patterns and tutorials we’ve written so far – hopefully they’ll be a useful starting point!

Mesh Bags

Mesh Bags (pattern at the end of the post)

Furoshiki

Knitted Dishcloth

Crocheted Cotton Dishcloth

Crocheted Acrylic Dish Scrubber

Beeswax Wraps

Cloth Napkins (second half of post)

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And here are the posts so far on our Waste Reduction Plan:

27 Jan 2018  A Waste Reduction Plan

2 Feb 2018  A Long, Rambling Catch Up

15 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Progress Report

20 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Fine Tuning

 

Reducing our green footprint has been an ongoing project for our family in 2018.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, we’ve made some big changes in an attempt to reduce the amount of waste we’re producing, but there’s also been quite a lot of fine tuning as well.

Here are some of the smaller changes we’ve made this year…you might want to grab a cuppa, because this ended up being a very long post…

. . . . .

We’ve invested in rechargeable batteries again.

We tried this nearly 20 years ago, but the product wasn’t up to scratch back then – the batteries couldn’t be stored as they didn’t hold their charge well, and once in a device, they would run out very quickly.

Thankfully, battery technology has improved in leaps and bounds since then, and these new Panasonic rechargeables should hold 85% of their charge for up to a year. We bought ours at Costco…

. . . . .

I use a lot of razor blades in my bread baking, so I thought I’d try resharpening them. After reading that you can sharpen disposable razors using old denim jeans as a strop, I made a nervous attempt while holding the naked blade in my fingers. It worked reasonably well, but I’m not sure it’s something I’d do regularly.

Instead, I’ve decided to go back to using a lame. This nifty little holder keeps my fingers away from the razor, which seems to extend its life, as the oil from my hands was causing the blade to corrode between bakes…

It has changed how my bread looks – I find it harder to produce intricate cuts with the lame, so I’ve reverted to just making a long slash down the middle of each loaf. On the up side, the resulting loaves are easier to slice and more useful for sandwiches…

Two things to mention: firstly, the blade has numbers on each corner (a product of the manufacturing process), so I’m able to use each one four times. This means that a single razor can power through a lot of loaves before it needs to be replaced. I’m annoyed at myself for not noticing the numbers sooner – my friend Joanna had to point them out to me…

Secondly, I tried the denim jeans sharpening trick on my trusty old (and irreplaceable) potato peeler. It was fiddly (you have to hold the blade at just the right angle) but it worked a treat!

. . . . .

In my last post on waste reduction, I mentioned that I was trying to find a replacement for parchment paper to bake on. The parchment is silicone coated, so it’s non-recyclable, and as we don’t have a compost heap to add it to, it was all ending up (eventually) in the red bin.

Helen and Tanzles both left me comments (thank you!) suggesting that I try barbecue/teflon sheets as a replacement (I’m not a fan of the rubbery silicone liners). Serendipitously, we had a Magic Cooking Sheet in our cupboard – a gift from Bob the Builder. We don’t own an outdoor barbecue, so it had never actually been used. I cut it in half that very night and made up two batches of dough.

One-third of the loaves below were baked on parchment, the remainder on the barbecue sheets…and I was thrilled not to be able to tell the difference…

I found a couple more of these on sale at a local food service supplier for $11 each. You can also order them online directly from the company website. The sheets are made in Ireland and each 40cm x 30cm sheet can be cut in half to line two 30cm enamel roasters. They’re FDA-approved, reusable up to 2,500 times, and clean up easily in warm detergent. The only limitations are that they can’t go over an open flame, and they can’t be folded (I think they crack)…

If you can’t get hold of these, my lovely friend Kim in the UK has had great success using a Lakeland magic tray liner, which is available locally through the Good Guys website. There are also cheaper teflon sheets available on Ebay from China, although I can’t vouch for how well they will work.

. . . . .

We’ve been studying all the consumption data in our appliance operating manuals to try and decipher the most efficient options. It’s not always the one you’d think – for example, in our Miele front loader washing machine, the “Wool” setting uses less water and energy than “Automatic/Quick Wash”…

. . . . .

Everything continues to be cheerfully wrapped in beeswax cloths.

Last week, I was delighted to unwrap a cut avocado in perfect condition after 24 hours in the fridge (it probably helped that it wasn’t over ripe). The only tricky bit is trying to remember what’s inside all the little wrapped parcels in the crisper drawer…

. . . . .

REDcycle in Victoria offer a great recycling service for soft plastics across Australia. We’ve been collecting plastic bags, clingfilm and other appropriate packaging, and depositing them weekly into dedicated bins outside Coles supermarkets.

They state on their website that they can’t take plastic packaging that has contained meat. When I emailed to ask if they would take the bags if I washed and dried them thoroughly first, this was their reply:

“If you are happy to prepare the chicken bags so that they are free of meat product and DRY, then yes, we are happy to accept them. The reason we usually ask that plastic which has contained meat be kept out of REDcycle bins is to avoid meat juices causing mould, which is an ongoing issue for us.”

So now I wash my meat bags in detergent and water, and hang them to dry before adding it to the recycling pile.

We’re also washing and reusing other plastic bags – this little green one held our entire season of snake beans, and we picked daily for almost a month! It’s now been washed and put away for another use…

. . . . .

The compostable kitchen bin liners we found aren’t very strong, so we’re taking Leigh’s advice and wrapping any leftover scraps which can’t go into the Bokashi in newspaper and putting them straight in the red bin…

. . . . .

One of the few things I was still using single-use plastic bags for was chocolate.

It was a tricky problem to solve – left unwrapped, tempered chocolate will soon scuff and lose its hard earned shine. Confectionery foil is hugely expensive, and cellophane is worse than plastic, as the latter is at least REDcycle-able. Parchment paper can’t be recycled and to be honest, it’s an expensive option and pretty boring as gift wrap; brown paper is thick and unattractive. I’d found nice origami paper at Daiso, but wasn’t sure how food-safe it was.

So I was delighted when Reverse Garbage were given these large, thin sheets of food-safe paper. If you look carefully, you can see the misprint that led to them all being discarded. I’m sure the Ze Pickle hamburger franchise weren’t happy to have “Ze Qickle” on their wrapping, but kudos to them (or their suppliers) for choosing a reuse option over recycling or landfill.

I paid just $5 for 1000 sheets, and each one is large enough to wrap a small loaf of bread…

And they work brilliantly! The chocolate stays pristine, and the quirky wrapping is unusual enough for gift giving. In addition, the paper is very thin, which means it should compost or recycle easily. As you can probably tell, I was pretty happy to find these…

I even wrapped our Friday loaves in them, just for fun (as opposed to putting the bread in paper bags)…

. . . . .

Finally, a couple of photos of our worm farm for Johanna.

We’ve had one going for a few years now, and have just added a second one in the hope that we can convince the worms (or failing them, the soldier fly larvae) to eat our fermented Bokashi waste.

Here’s a photo of the top tray of our established one…

And a quick pic of the second tray – the worms bury themselves once exposed to light, so I had to be fast…

The worm juice is high in nitrogen, so it gets diluted down and sprayed on the plants as fertiliser (it’s particularly good for leafy greens). The castings are collected at regular intervals and used to create a potting mix, which eventually ends up in the garden. In combination with the poop provided by our chickens and our home-brewed comfrey tea, it provides most of the nutrients our veggie patch needs – we haven’t had to buy commercial fertiliser for quite a while now.

. . . . .

A few more little tweaks – all our light bulbs are low energy long life ones, glass wok lids now cover my rising dough instead of plastic shower caps, and bowls being heated in the microwave are topped with a plate rather than a paper towel. We’re trying to be more aware of our electricity and water consumption, turning appliances off when not in use and avoiding small wash loads.

Actually, that’s probably the crux of it all – we’re trying to be more mindful of all our actions, and making a conscious effort to stop and think before automatically reaching for a paper towel, or turning on an appliance, or throwing a wrapper in the bin, or purchasing food in excess to what we can eat or store.

I’ve learnt so much from all of you already, thank you for coming on this journey with us! I’d be grateful for any other tips you might have for fine tuning our waste reduction plan!

I had a birthday last month.

It was meant to be a low key affair, as I’d been up at the crack of dawn to do a 6am airport run, but my friends decided otherwise. They arrived at our door at 5pm with champagne and homebaked cake. I felt very loved…

. . . . .

My gorgeous mother, always the optimist, gave me birthday money to buy a dress. And as I do every year, much to her dismay, I bought myself a new fossil. This ammonite is a doozy, weighing in at 1.63 kilos (3.6lbs)…

Dating from the Cretaceous period (65-145 million years ago), it’s covered in gloriously intricate suture patterns…

It’s not a perfect specimen, which meant I actually could afford it. The back has a beautiful translucent agatised section (often incorrectly referred to as “jade”)…

. . . . .

Returning from a visit to Singapore (and arriving at 6am on my birthday), Big Boy brought back treasures from my bae-by sister. I thought salted egg fish skin crisps would be an acquired taste, but everyone I’ve served them to has loved them. They’re highly addictive…

This beautiful Turkish tea pot and copper plate were a gift from Cynthia as well, and a perfect match to our dining room decor…

Big Boy and Monkey Girl gave me these adorable sake cups with tiny goldfish in them…

. . . . .

During the week of my birthday, I got to meet two of my oldest online friends in person!

On the Monday, I walked the Bay Run with lovely Nancy from Tokyo (who used to blog at Plus Ate Six). We had delicious bacon and egg rolls by the water and chatted non-stop for a couple of hours…

Bless her, she brought me Clover crochet hooks and a shopping bag she’d made. Oh, and a floating pig, which I tried to wear as a fascinator (it’s actually designed to hold soaking or boiling vegetables under water)…

The following Sunday, I met up (finally) with darling Emilie of The Clever Carrot fame! We had such a good time running around the city that we completely forgot to take photos, so I’ll share a funny story with you instead.

Em caught a bus into Central to meet us, but it turned out that there were three bus stops called “Central Station” and the bus driver told her to get off at the wrong one. She didn’t have wifi or mobile coverage and, slightly concerned, I went looking for her. Pete was with me, so I made him sit at the Broadway bus stop holding Em’s book (which I’d brought with me to get her to sign) in case she walked past. We found each other in the end, and oh how we laughed when we did…

Emilie brought me a gorgeous crystal bracelet, a bar of lavender and honey goat soap, and a crazy tin of putty, which you can actually draw on with an enclosed UV light. The boys have been having a field day with it…

. . . . .

Finally, let me show you the gift from our friend and neighbour, Maude. Like Nancy, she’s also a mad crocheter, and you might recall how she crocheted covers for the armrests of our car a couple of years ago.

This year, she decided they needed replacing, so she made a new set for my birthday. Over the course of a few weeks, she would walk across the road, pick up our keys, and sit in our stationary car, crocheting away. The new covers are made from heavy duty cotton which Maude tried to colour match to the seats, and they fit snuggly.

“You can wash the other ones now..” she told me.

Seriously, I have the best (and bossiest) friends in the world. ♥

I caught up with my friend Allison recently at the fabulous Steam Engine in Chatswood. Not only do they make great coffee, they also encourage folks to bring their own reusable cups by showing them exactly how much goes to landfill from one takeaway coffee a day…

Inspired, I decided to add to my KeepCup set.

After eight months and over 150 uses, my baby 4oz cup is still as good as new. This week I added a large cup for herbal teas and a 6oz cup for iced piccolos. I toyed with the idea of just buying a large one, but my baby cup has a permanent coffee aroma, and I was keen to have a dedicated one for tea.

If you’re in Sydney’s Inner West, Caffe Bianchi in Leichhardt has the full range on offer (it can be hard to find the smaller sizes in coffee shops), or you can order directly from KeepCup. Doing the latter lets you choose your own colours as well…

. . . . .

Our beeswax wraps are going strong!

Here’s how our Korean dinner party prep looked a few weeks ago. My homemade cloths aren’t as sticky as the commercial ones, but it’s nothing a rubber band can’t fix. We haven’t used any clingfilm so far this year…

Being Chinese, I’m probably washing the wraps more often than recommended, and I noticed recently that the wax coating was slowly wearing down. So I rewaxed a pile of them – it took just a couple of minutes and the addition of a small amount of sheet wax – and now they’re as good as new! If you’d like to have a go making some, our tutorial is here.

One last tip – if you have a friend who keeps bees, ask them to buy the beeswax foundation sheets for you. My friend Ian picked some up for me at under $2 each, compared to the $3.50 per sheet charged at candle shops. Having said that, each sheet will wax a piece of fabric up to eight times its size, so it’s still remarkably good value compared to buying them ready made!

. . . . .

The cloth napkins and crocheted/knitted dishcloths are going well – we haven’t used a paper napkin all year, and we’re still on our first roll of paper towels. There’s more effort involved – a bit more washing and a lot more folding, but it’s well worth it. As I mentioned last time, having a large stack of napkins reduces the need to wash too often.

The tenegui from Daiso that I used to make the napkins have been perfect – they’re pilling a bit after three months, but still holding up otherwise, and they wash and line dry very quickly. Most importantly, I don’t have to iron them!

I’ve cut up an old waffle weave bedspread and turned it into towels – they’re super absorbent for everything from drying vegetables to wiping up spills…

All the towels and dishcloths are stored in a drawstring bag in the kitchen, ready for use at a moment’s notice…

. . . . .

I’m making scrubbers from acrylic yarn (this ball was $2 at the Reject Shop) and they work brilliantly on pots and dishes. I simply crochet a small square, fold it in half and then crochet around the edges to form a double layer. I’ve found these work quite well in cotton too, providing the stitch is a bit tighter (smaller hook)…

. . . . .

The furoshiki continue to be a great success.

I don’t take shopping bags anymore as the cloths live permanently in my handbag. They’re surprisingly strong and can hold up to twice as much as a regular plastic shopping bag. At home, we use them to wrap everything from lunch boxes to excess linen to loaves of bread. A couple of my furoshiki have even become fashion accessories, thanks to these snazzy magnetic handles that Kevin and Carol bought me in Japan…

. . . . .

Finally, the Bokashi has stalled temporarily while we figure out what to do with the broken down waste material.

The system performs well for the most part (there are some things which it can’t seem to process like pork rind and processed meats), and our original thinking was to feed all the waste to the worms after it had fermented. However, we also collect our vegetable scraps for the worms, and they seem to far prefer that to the Bokashi waste.

We’ve just invested in a second worm farm which we plan to keep just for Bokashi scraps. Pete was also mumbling something yesterday about soldier fly larvae (which apparently eat the scraps very quickly) and engineering a device to add to the second worm farm so we can collect pupating larvae for the chickens…and it was all so gross that I switched off. Suffice to say that I’ll just keep sewing cloth napkins and crocheting dishcloths and leave all of that to him…

. . . . .

So, what can we improve?

We’ve reduced our paper bag usage, but I think we can still do better there. And while I always have my reusable coffee cup, I don’t always remember to take my plastic containers to the deli. We’ve invested in sturdy plastic storage containers for the fridge and freezer (glass would be preferable, but we find it too heavy), but a lot of plastic takeaway containers are still coming into the house.

Parchment paper is an ongoing problem – it’s non-recyclable, but I don’t like the result I get from baking on silicon mats. I’m reusing each sheet twice (three bakes at high heat is all it can take before it starts to crumble apart), but it’s still not ideal.

Being more aware of what we purchase means that our food waste has reduced, so that even with the Bokashi temporarily on hiatus, we’re still managing to keep our  household rubbish down to one kitchen bin bag a week. I’m making the boys eat a lot of leftovers! Unfortunately, the compostable bags we bought are quite flimsy, so we’re occasionally having to use an old fashioned plastic one.

I think the next area of focus will be really looking at how the goods which come into our house are packaged. Whilst a lot of packaging materials can be recycled (the soft plastics can be REDcycled), there are still some items (like polystyrene) that need to go straight into the red bin.

I’ll keep you posted on how we go!

I’ve worn glasses since I was eleven years old.

Pete, on the other hand, has always had excellent eyesight, so he’s found his aging vision particularly frustrating. I’m finding it difficult to be sympathetic, but given my truly appalling sense of direction, we needed to figure out a way for him to read GoogleMaps on his phone without constantly having to rummage around for his reading glasses.

After some research, we discovered these brilliant little lenses by ThinOptics in California.

They’re super lightweight and thin without arms, and fold to fit into a compartment on the back of his iPhone.

I’m not sure how they stay on his nose (apparently that’s the patented technology bit), but Pete says they’re comfortable to wear and feel reasonably secure. They won’t stay on if he shakes his head around too much, and if he smiles too broadly, his cheeks can knock them askew, but they’re certainly fit for purpose. He can now read small text on his phone and order from restaurant menus in dim lighting.

We paid A$32 for the custom iPhone case and A$19.88 for the reading glasses. Shipping was free from the US because we spent over A$50.

After purchase, ThinOptics sent us this discount link which we’re allowed to share with friends – if anyone is interested, it should give you 15% off and free shipping. I don’t think we get anything out of it, other than the same 15% discount, but as the glasses come with a lifetime replacement warranty, I’m not sure why we’d ever need to purchase another pair…

And as an added bonus, I think they make Pete look adorable! ♥

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