Eco Tips

Our back garden

Turning your garden into a carbon sink 

As well as minimising the amount of carbon we emit/ consume/ use we need also to do all we can to keep as much carbon locked away undisturbed in the ground. Our gardens can be made into carbon sinks ie net absorbers of carbon. 

  1. Don’t buy or use peat. The UK’s peatlands are an important carbon sink (1 hectare of peatland  can absorb up to 2000 tonnes of CO2 per year). Digging up and removing the peat seriously damages these fragile habitats. 
  2. Don’t buy plastic plant pots whether with or without plants (plastic is made from oil). Instead use pots made from plant fibres, paper or clay. The Hairy Plant Pot Company grows plants for sale in coir pots. The whole pot with plant  goes straight into the solid where the coir will decompose over time.  
  3. Don’t use artificial fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. These have a high carbon footprint and are damaging to natural ecosystem.
  4. Make a compost bin and fill it with garden waste and plant based kitchen waste. Once well rotted, the bin’s contents will provide soil enriching natural compost that locks the carbon into the soil. Compost bins can be made from wood (eg recycled pallets), wire mesh or you could buy a plastic bin made from recycled plastic. 
  5. Plant trees and shrubs as these will, by their size, be able to absorb more carbon as they grew. 
  6. Opt for perennial plants over annuals. The perennial plant both develops a larger root mass and has a longer growing season enabling it to absorb more carbon. Interestingly you can opt for perennial varieties of vegetables rather than growing them each year from seed: spinach, watercress, kale, perennial leeks and onions, cabbage etc.
  7. Choose plants that will be happy in the micro environment that your garden offers. You can waste time, energy and carbon, trying to make plants grow where the conditions are unsuitable. Grow together plants that form a natural ecosystem so that they help each other. 
  8. Avoid over digging the soil as this can release carbon locked into the soil.  
  9. Avoid leaving the earth bare as carbon from the soil can easily be lost into,the atmosphere. Instead cover the earth with a mulch or with a cover crop.
  10. Let your lawn grow. Frequent cutting of the grass requires the input of water and fertilisers to keep it green and the lack of depth of  cover makes it susceptible to drying out during periods of drought. Instead let the grass grow longer – you can still run over it, sit on it and play on it.
  11. Transform your lawn into a meadow by introducing a greater variety of plants, especially flowering ones. These extra plants will tend to have longer root systems enabling more carbon to be absorbed by the soil.
  12. Avoid or replace hard surfaces, especially concrete ones. (Concrete has a particularly high carbon footprint). Hard surfaces leave the soils underneath compacted and bereft of mini beasts and micro organisms that absorb carbon. Use gravel and bark in preference to paving stones, or even bricks set in sand. 
  13. Build a pergola so that you can grow climbing plants to provide shade in the summer. Consider adapting any garden sheds so that you can plant them with a green roof. The more we plant, the more carbon our garden can absorb.

Preserving fruit and vegetables

Jam

To make jam you need equal quantities of fruit (plums are good at the moment) and sugar plus pectin powder. The latter is not essential but it does ensure that your jam sets well. 

Place these in a large saucepan and heat to a gentle boil, stirring regularly (wooden spoon) to prevent the sugar from burning. Soft fruits like raspberries and strawberries do not need extra liquid but plums and damsons can benefit from a cup of water for every kg of fruit. 

Boil gently until the mixture reaches the setting point – 105C. This may take half an hour or longer. A sugar thermometer is useful! But if you haven’t got one, dip your spoon in and lift it with the curved surface uppermost. Count to 20 then tip the spoon. If the mixture clings to the bottom edge you have probably reached setting point. 

Meanwhile wash and sterilise some jars – 1kg of fruit produces about 5 jars of jam. To sterilise the jars, half fill with water and place in a microwave (without their lids) and heat until the water boils.

Pout the jam into jars and screw on the lids straight away. As the jars cool, the metal lids will contract creating an air tight seal. 

The WI has long been associated with jam making: https://www.thewi.org.uk/life-at-the-wi/food-and-cookery/recipes/recipes/jams,-preserves-and-pickles/easy-strawberry-jam

Bottled fruit 

Cook the fruit until it is soft. (I do this in a plastic covered box in the microwave). Add water if the fruit is not obviously juicy – eg if preparing plums, apples, quinces etc. Once the fruit is soft (doesn’t need to be cooked to a mush) put into sterilised jars. Press the fruit down so that they are all covered by the liquid that has been released by the cooking. Secure the jar lids. Place the jars in a saucepan and fill with water till it reaches at least half or two thirds up the jars. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Boil/ simmer for 15 minutes. This ensures the contents of the jar are all brought to a high temperature to kill of bacteria. Cool the jars and store. As the jars cool the lids will contract creating an air tight seal. As well as jam jars you can use kilner jars.

Chutney

Chutneys use a mixture of fruit and vegetables. I use 3kg of chopped fruit and vegetables -eg plums, apples, marrow – including at least one chopped onion and about 200g of dried fruit such as dates, raisins or figs. To this I add 400g of sugar and 400ml of vinegar and a selection of spices – cloves, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, chilli powder etc – the equivalent of approximately 2 teaspoons. 

Put everything into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring regularly. The chutney is cooked when  if you scrape your wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan you can see a clear expanse of pan before the mixture flows back. 

Pour into sterilised jars with screw on lids. It is best to allow chutney to mature 6 to 8 weeks before eating.

Chutneys are a good use of green tomatoes: https://www.thewi.org.uk/life-at-the-wi/food-and-cookery/recipes/recipes/jams,-preserves-and-pickles/green-tomato-chutney

Sauerkraut  

Sauerkraut is traditionally made with white cabbage but you can add other vegetables and even fruit too. (We add pineapple when we get it in our OddBox delivery).

Take you selection of vegetables – eg firm red or white cabbage, root vegetables such  as carrot and beetroot, celery or fennel, garlic, onions, pumpkin – and slice them all thinly. For very 500g add 2 teaspoons of salt. In addition you can add spices such as caraway seeds, fennel seeds, allspice, peppercorns etc. Mix everything together in a large bowl and squeeze and scrunch the vegetables until they produce a liquid. Pack the whole mixture into a large jar with a lid (kilner jars are great) and press well down. The liquid should reach the top. Use a large cabbage leave to cover the top pressing down to keep everything submerged. You can add a weight (wrap in tinfoil first) or even a clean stone. 

Over the next few days the mixture will begin to ferment. You will see bubbles forming. You may need to release the lid to allow excess gas to leave.

Classic sauerkraut recipe: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jan/06/how-to-make-sauerkraut-recipe-felicity-cloake 

Pickled ‘capers

Nasturtium seeds can be used instead of caper – don’t use the seeds you buy for sowing but pick ones from plants that you have already grown. Fill a small jar with clean green seeds. Cover with vinegar and add a few spices such as coriander seeds, peppercorns and a bay leaf. Secure with a lid. Leave to mature – they will turn pale brown.

Preserved lemon skins

As you are cooking save lemon skins. Place them in a clean jar with a layer of salt to cover them. As you add more lemon skins, add more salt. Pack the skins in well so as not to leave air pockets. The skins will turn brown and will absorb some of the salt. You can use them as and when you wish, slicing and adding them to salads and casseroles. 

Eco Tips: Packaging

Become savvy.
Give packaging a long, hard look.
Is it necessary? Is it recyclable? Is there an alternative? Can you take your own packaging – be that a shopping basket, cloth bag or box?

There is little  – if anything – that we consume that does not have a carbon footprint which is why when we seek to reduce our carbon footprint, we should be reviewing everything that we consume. And that includes the packaging. Whether what you buy comes in a plastic bag or a paper one, whether it comes in a plastic tray or a cardboard punnet, whether it comes in a plastic bottle or a glass jar, whether it is wrapped in tissue paper or bubble wrap – that packaging will have a carbon footprint. If the packaging is excessive or simply unnecessary,  then we increase our carbon footprint with no gain or merit. Our aim should be to avoid unnecessary packaging and where packing is needed, to seek out packing that can  – and will be – recycled. 

Packaging Scenarios 

1. Some packaging is necessary: imagine taking home a pint of milk with no packaging! Milk is usually sold in plastic or glass or tetra-pacs containers – and in fact all these can be recycled (although the loop for tetra-pacs is not yet fully closed), whilst glass milk bottles can be reused some 60 to 70 times before being recycled. 

2. But some packaging is not. Do apples need to come in plastic bags (even if they are compostable plastic substitute)? Loose fruit and vegetables can simply be picked up, weighed and popped into you own shopping bag/ basket.  

3. For some items such as strawberries and raspberries,  the packing prevents the items becoming damaged and potentially inedible . The carbon footprint of the packing may outweigh the carbon footprint of wasted food. Punnets are often made of PET plastic which can be fully recycled into a new punnet but the film on top is not so readily recycled –  the Co op has just introduced a recycling scheme which accepts all scrunchable plastics. 

4. Some packaging is excessive! Biscuits that come in a plastic tray inside a plastic sleeve, inside a cardboard box …. Refusing to buy such items  is the best response – and can feeling very satisfying. You might instead make you own ‘up-market’ biscuits with zero packaging

5. Some packaging cannot be recycled such as polystyrene or, in the case of black plastic, is routinely incinerated/ sent to landfill because the recycling machinery finds black hard to detect! 

6. But if fruit and vegetables can be bought packaging free, what about other things such as pasta or dried fruit? Soap or washing up liquid? There is a growing number of refill stores where customers can buy loose goods, decanting what they want into either their own reusable jar or  container, or into a paper bag.  


Eco Tips

Curtailing food waste

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Reducing food waste

4..5 million tonnes of food is wasted by UK households each year – that equates to 12.5 million tonnes CO2. Avoiding waste is about only buying what is actually going to be eaten within the shelf life of the food stuff.

  • Plan meals
    • plan a daily menu or a weekly menu. This way you will know what food/ ingredients you need.
    • think about portion sizes: eg portion of protein = 30g nuts, 2 eggs, 90g meat, or 150g cooked beans or pulses.
    • check which ingredients you already have and which additional items you need to buy.
  • Make a shopping list and use it: buying extra may be storing up future waste.
  • Think about using alternative or substitute ingredients.
    • if a recipe asks for peas and you haven’t any, can you use chopped courgette/ apple/ dried peas?
    • if celeriac is on your shopping list but not in the shop, can you buy carrots/ parsnips/ sweet potato instead?
  • Plan your meal according to what you already have.
    • Rather than buying a complete set of ingredients, create a recipe that uses what you already have.
    • Use up ingredients that are in your fridge that would otherwise go out of date. Try the internet for ‘fridge clearing’ recipes.
    • If you have left leftovers from a previous meal, incorporate them into today’s meal
  • Make good use of a glut. If you have an excess amount of a food or if there is a really good offer at your local shop, have a go at food preserving . Excess fruit can be bottled, made into jam, or made into chutney. Excess vegetables can be pickled, fermented or made into chutney.
  • Store all food stuffs carefully so as to keep them fresh and maintain their life. Some foods – like potatoes – are best kept in breathable (paper/ cotton) bag that excludes light. Some are best kept in bags – eg carrots and root vegetables – to stop them drying out. Some are best kept in the fridge such as cucumbers and lettuces. Some are best kept out of the fridge such as apples and tomatoes.
  • If you shop locally and buy locally produced foods, less food is likely to be wasted in the distribution chain. Try a fruit and veg box scheme that comes direct from the farm.
  • Be ready to buy small or oddly shaped fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded. Some fruit and veg box schemes such as OddBox, specialise in sourcing products that are either small, misshapen or surplus to demand.
  • Buy and eat food that is in season.
  • Have a few recipes that use only store cupboard ingredients so that you can always make a meal with what’s in the house. Eg spaghetti with a tinned tomato and haricot bean sauce, garnished with black olives.

Eco Tips

Recycling Plastics

The world’s resources are finite. The more we personally use, the less there is for others. We should reuse, repair and recycle what we do use. 
Plastic is conventionally made from oil but can be made from recycled plastic which has  both a smaller carbon footprint and allows virgin oil to be left in the ground together with its potential carbon emissions. 

Recycling plastics is a good thing.


Whilst all plastic can potentially be recycled, with some forms of plastic the process is deemed too expensive.  Plastics that can easily and cheaply be recycled are typically the ones that can go in your kerb side recycling bin  or in recycling points at super markets etc. Items made of several different plastics can be difficult to recycle but more and more business are making this possible. Costa Coffee collects coffee cups for recycling (typically made of paper with a thin plastic lining). Superdrug collects blister packs from pills etc for recycling. 

32% of all plastic in the UK was recycled in 2020: including 50% of plastic packaging and 77% of plastic drinks bottles. Plastic that is not recycled ends up in landfill sites or incinerators, or as pollution in rivers and the sea. There is scope for more and better recycling. Equally there is scope for reducing the amount of plastic that is in circulation. Do we need all that plastic packing? Do bananas need to come in plastic bags? Do we need drink coffee from throw away cups? Why aren’t sandwiches wrapped in paper? 

Good Plastic Recycling Practice

  1. Before throwing plastic in the land waste bin, check whether it could be recycled. If necessary contact the manufacturer. If enough people keeping asking, they may even swop to a more readily recycled plastic.
  2. Check the type of plastic you are recycling. Is it a recyclable plastic that can go in your kerb side  bin or do you need to take it to an alternative recycling point? The ‘wrong’ sort of plastic can contaminate the recycling process.
  3. Make sure the plastic is clean: rinse to remove traces of food, detergent etc. Dirty plastic can contaminate the recycling process.
  4. Stack plastic trays together to minimise the amount the of space they take up – this stops your recycling bin from overflowing and reduces the need for larger sized recycling  trucks.  Similarly flatten plastic bottles. Both these practices will prevent loose items of plastic being falling or being blown out of your bin.
  5. Twin your Bin and help improve recycling across the globe. https://www.bintwinning.org/ 

Eco tip: how to keep cool in hot weather

  1. Drink lots of fluids.
  2. Dress in loose light coloured and light weight clothes. Go bare foot. Wear a sun hat.
  3. Close curtains and open windows to keep the sun out and air moving through the room. Open windows on different sides of the house and different floors to encourage air to move through the house. 
  4. Turn off unused electrical appliances, even those on sleep may be emitting extra heat into the room.
  5. Hang wet towels over or near an open window, or place a bowl of water or ice by the window. Air moving through or across will absorb the moisture and cool the room. 
  6. Shade the outside of the window to prevent the glass from heating up and radiating heat into the room. You could use a sheet or towel as an ad hoc shade. Or place a gazebo or sun parasol to shade the window. Longer term consider fixing an awning to shade south facing windows. Or erect a pergola outside and allow climbing plants to shade the window.
  7. Sit with your feet in a bowl of cold water. Keep damp flannels in the fridge for a cool wipe.
  8. Freeze a plastic bottle of water (don’t completely fill the bottle as frozen water expands)  and use it as a cold ‘hot’ water bottle. To avoid ice burns wrap in a towel before placing it on your skin. Alternatively place in your bed at night.
  9. Fill a sock with rice, secure the end and place in the freezer. Use as a cold pad or as cold ‘hot’ water bottle in your bed. 
  10. Have you a tip to share?