We can Change the World by the Power of our Purse

In these unsettling times we are becoming ever more aware of the pace of change and it’s easy to feel that things are beyond our control and that we don’t have a say.  But what if we decided to make our mark in our own way – not in the ‘old fashioned’ way of protest marching or casting the ballot for the same old party politics just with different coloured rosettes, but in a new way – with our purses and our feet.  What if everyone decided all at once that “same old, same old” wasn’t good enough, wasn’t what serves us or the planet, and from that moment on we all did things differently?

Take the example of textiles.  We all know just how much the textile industry pollutes clean water and how all the clothing and soft furnishings we buy are saturated with toxic chemicals which offgas into our rooms and are absorbed by our bodies through the skin.  We think we have no alternative, but you may be surprised:

Clothing

  • Buy vintage:  There are so many shops springing up offering good quality vintage clothing and often vintage fabric which predates the chemical saturation era.  Most is so well made that it may even have a longer shelf life than something you buy today.  And anyway who wants to be a High Street clone?  Oxfam offer a selection of vintage online.  Google vintage clothing with your town name or look on Yell in your local area or Freeindex.
  • Organise a swishing party with friends:  It’s the perfect time of year to declutter your wardrobe and have a fun evening trying on and swopping clothes with a group of girls over your favourite tea or a glass of wine.  Find out how to organise a swishing party here, or if there is one local to you. Some more info and rules
  • Revamp your wardrobe:  lay out anything that looks and feels a bit tired and step back.  That T shirt that’s always annoyed you because the sleeves were too long, could you just make it a short sleeve for the Spring?  What about adding some beads, ribbon, trim, embroidery, buttons to freshen it up or to match the colour of a favourite cardigan or skirt?  Or make one top into a vest, to wear over another.  Make a skirt out of a pair of jeans by opening up the inside leg seams, or get ahead with a new pair of shorts.  Use a scarf as a belt or make a bag out of an old felted pullover.  The ideas for upcycling are endless, like this
  • Jumble sales, community sales are making a comeback.  Check out your local newspaper or parish magazine for boot fairs many of which will be in full swing by Easter.

Home

  • Many of the above will apply:  local garage sales, swop shops, vintage shops, second hand shops.  Check if there is a local curtain exchange.  Look up eBay, Freecycle, etc,
  • Make patchwork curtains and cushions:  If your budget is tight and you have fabric to hand but not enough of any one, make a pretty patchwork or bands or stripes of colour.  Buy a small piece of fabric to enhance what you already have and to create a coherent theme, for example, if you have lots of pink or red florals, buy some blue striped fabric, or polka dots as a contrast. Great for completing that shabby chic look.  If your skills are a bit rusty, ask a friend or neighbour to help you.  It’s fun sewing together, with tea and cake!
Pink Patchwork Fabric
Pink Patchwork fabric
  • If you are just bored of the style and feel of the room, how about making a Roman Blind out of an old curtain?  This will make a room feel more fresh and modern in an instant.  You don’t have to spend lots of money on tracks either.  A wooden baton works just as well.
  • Prefer a minimalist look?  Wooden shutters are becoming more popular.  They last a lot longer than curtains and are easy to maintain.
  • When it comes to warmth and elegance, you just can’t beat a good pair of hand-made, interlined curtains though.  They can set the tone of the room, and bring a softness and feeling of intimacy to a space.

    Curtains in organic hemp by OEcotextiles
    Curtains in organic hemp by OEcotextiles
  • Organic fabrics  for are becoming more readily available and gradually more affordable as the technologies improve, demand increases and production prices of cheaper fabrics worldwide begin to rise.   You often only need to spend a little more to get healthy, quality organic cotton, linens and organic hemp which will last for years, meaning that over the  product life cycle they actually work out much cheaper, and don’t cost the earth. Get together and help each other to make curtains and clothes, or find someone local who has the skills and get them to teach you.

Being creative and sitting back in the warm fuzzy glow of having made something yourself beats any shopping spree. It’s fun, it’s satisfying, it’s original and is often a fraction of the cost.   So why not be the change and make more from less,  make conscious choices how we spend, who we give our energy to, how we share our resources?  Have you got an idea, a resource or a site to share?

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Life after Plastic

Plastics are everywhere. But although it is a very affordable and convenient material, plastic is very often toxic to produce, toxic to use and also toxic in its disposal.

Scientists are increasingly finding that there may be hidden costs to our health. Some common plastics release harmful chemicals into the air and into food and drinks. Maybe you can’t see or taste it, but if your dinner came in a plastic tray, you’re likely eating a little bit of plastic with your dinner.

On top of this the use of plastics cause an enormous amount of enduring pollution as every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except for the small amount that has been incinerated,  releasing toxic chemicals in the process. Plastic waste is accumulating in huge quantities in the sea where fish are ingesting toxic plastic bits at a rate which means they may become unfit for consumption.

So how can we reduce chemical in the home?

Making Better and Safer choices

  • Reduce use of plastic. Look for natural alternatives like textiles, solid wood, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, etc.
  • Look for items with less plastic packaging or better none at all. If you cannot avoid plastic, opt for products you can recycle or re-purpose (e.g. a yogurt tub can be re-used to store crayons or sewing cottons and bits).
  • Get to know your plastics – see guide below:

The most common plastics have a resin code in a chasing arrow symbol (often found on the bottom of the product).  This list is just a rough guide and by no means definitive.

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): AVOID
Common Uses: Soda Bottles, Water Bottles, Cooking Oil Bottles
Concerns: Can leach antimony and phthalates.

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Milk Jugs, Plastic Bags, Yogurt Cups

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride, aka Vinyl): AVOID
Common Uses: Condiment Bottles, Cling Wrap, Teething Rings, Toys, Shower Curtains
Concerns: Can leach lead and phthalates among other things. Can also off-gas toxic chemicals.

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Produce Bags, Food Storage Containers

PP (Polypropylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Bottle Caps, Storage Containers, Dishware

PS (Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam): AVOID
Common Uses: Meat Trays, Foam Food Containers & Cups
Concerns: Can leach carcinogenic styrene and estrogenic alkylphenols

Other.  Includes:
PC (Polycarbonate): AVOID – can leach Bisphenol-A (BPA). It also includes ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile), Acrylic, and Polyamide. These plastics can be a safer option because they are typically very durable and resistant to high heat resulting in less leaching. Their drawbacks are that they are not typically recyclable and some need additional safety research.

Green and White Flower Cotton Bag
Green and White Flower Cotton Bag

A few suggestions to become more green:

Textile bags are reusable, washable, biodegradable, eco-friendly and can be easily made from fabric remnants.   Watch for our post on How to make a Textile Shopping Bag – coming soon.  See here for textile bags or visit our eBay shop for bags and fabric remnants.

Make your own yoghurt and recycle the same pot each time, or use your own ceramic or glass pot. There are a number of online sites that give instructions and if you have an airing cupboard it is very easy and costs a fraction of the price in the shops (about 55-60p per 500ml using organic milk.

Have you got ideas to share?  Please let us know your ideas.

What is ‘upcycling’?

Upcycling,  to quote the wikipedia definition, is the “process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of  better quality or a higher environmental value”.  Or in the words of William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things”, it is the ‘practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.

So, you may be wondering, how is this any different from recycling?

Well, recycling tends to involve converting or extracting useful materials from a products, often  breaking down or destroying the product to produce another item or material in its place, for example an aluminium can is melted down to make other cans.  With upcycling on the other hand more value is placed on the old product, with something new being made out of it and ideally with little or no energy being used to create another item.  An example of this would be making a table out of an old piano, which my father did after the Second World War I found out recently!  Or using an old shirt or pullover to make a child’s skirt, or a rag rug or patchwork throw, or a pair of old jeans to make a bag.  In both these instances the amount of energy used is minimal and mainly of human form, with a few tools to help along the way.

Bag made from a pair of old jeans

Reusing materials already available can help to keep energy usage lower, as it reduces the consumption of new raw materials when creating new products,  although there may actually be cases where there is less benefit to the environment in upcycling if energy used to upcycle is more than recycling back to the same product, for example glass bottles which are crushed and refashioned into kitchen work tops.

I cut up old T-shirts to make cleaning cloths and for polishing shoes, save old grubby towels to use as ground sheets when painting and decorating, and I just love making and repairing things.  What do you do with your old bits and bobs?