Wednesday, 30 October 2019

"Being given a bike can have a transformative effect on a refugee’s life"

Jon Machen is the founder and director of The Bike Project, a charity that provides bikes to refugees in London and Birmingham.
I interviewed him for the 2nd issue of the Zero Waste London Newsletter that went out to subscribers on 28th October 2019.

For how long has the Bike project been going on and how many bikes have been given to refugees so far? 
The Bike Project was set up in 2013 and since then has donated more than 5,500 to refugees and asylum seekers.

Are the bikes all refurbished ones? 
Yes, all the bikes that we give to refugees and asylum seekers have been kindly donated to us by members of the public. We have a team of expert mechanics who then carefully access each bike, refurbishing those that we believe can be made road-worthy.

How much of a difference does having a bike make to a refugee’s life? 
Being given a bike can have a transformative effect on a refugee’s life. A bike can help reduce the cost of travel around London ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers can access the vital support they need.
The law prohibits asylum seekers from working and provides just £37.75 per week to live on. This can mean many having to choose between food and accessing healthcare, education or voluntary opportunities.
58% of refugees in London describe loneness and isolation as their biggest challenge. People make twice as many trips for social or leisure reasons after collecting a bike from us.  

Do you teach how to ride a bike in London to refugees? London can be a very dangerous city for cyclists, unfortunately…
Everyone who receives a bike from us is given a short cycling training before leaving our donation sessions. We also run a programme called Pedal Power which delivers free cycling lessons to refugee women. These run in three locations across London every week.
On top of that, we have a buddying programme called Bike Buddies, where our beneficiaries can be paired with a trained volunteer who lives close to them. The idea is that the volunteer and their buddy go on a few rides together to build confidence, get to know their local area and make a new friend.

You’re currently out of bikes. How is happened before? Are you struggling to keep up with the demand? 
This year we’ve seen demand for our bikes increase dramatically and have had to close our waiting list twice whilst we try and keep up with demand. In spring we had more than 1000 people on our waiting lists.

How can people help the Bike project?
One of the best ways people can support us is to donate their old and unwanted bikes to us. To find your nearest drop off point, visit . 
We also sell a small proportion of the bikes that are given to us to ensure our long-term sustainability so if you’re looking to replace your bike, why not check our website.

How much space do people need to set up a drop-off point? Can it be anywhere in Greater London? 
We have more than 24 permanent drop-off points across Greater London but we’re always looking for more. 
All you need to set up a drop-off point is:
- A secure space for at least 10 bikes (kept indoors or outdoors) to be stored at a time
- A designated person on site who can coordinate bike donations and our van collections 
- It’s an added bonus, but by no means essential, if you have means to transport bikes to or from your drop-off points.

You’ve launched in London but you also have a presence in Birmingham. How have you been doing in Birmingham so far?
We opened our doors at The Old Print Works in Birmingham just three months ago in June and have already donated more than 100 bikes.

What are the plans for next year? 
Next year one of our main focuses will be to expand our retail premises to another location in South London. This will help us to ensure that we remain financially sustainable as a social enterprise so that we can continue to expand our bike donations. We’ll also start to offer bike servicing so keep a look out for our new shop!    

Monday, 28 October 2019

"There is a real demand for sustainable eating"

Sophie André, CEO and founder of Elysia
Sophie is a very impressive young entrepreneur who launched her sustainable catering business in 2016. She had no experience in catering and she had just arrived in London. Wow! 

This is the interview Sophie gave me for the first issue of Zero Waste London News which was released on October 17th 2019. 
You buy food surplus from food producers. What is surplus food?
We source fruit and vegetables with imperfections but also cheese wheels that have been tasted during the maturing process. Cheesemongers remove a sample to make sure the batch is ready to be sold, the wheel may end up with a hole and some cracks. We also buy brown crab meat. It is much more abundant than white meat and rarely consumed.

How many tonnes of food are you able to recover? 
A minimum of 75% of the ingredients we source is from surplus. Over the last two years we saved over 8 tonnes of food.

What happens to the rest of the surplus? Do companies sell it at a discounted price? 
It is usually very difficult for the producers so sell the surplus as the produce have aesthetic imperfections. It’s also the case that stockage and/or harvesting cost more than the income they generate. Food producers would always try to find solutions to reduce waste. For instance, some cheesemongers grate imperfect cheddar cheese. Saying that, not all cheese can be grated. Some farmers can count on charities but they need surplus to be collected everyday. So there is still a portion of food that is wasted.

How is your business doing?
The business is going very well. We cater for events from 40 to 400 guests in London and now in the countryside as well. The events are sometimes organised by social businesses or charities who deal with people who are already aware of food waste issues. We also have corporate and private clients. The clients and their guests are happy to learn about the story of the ingredients and contribute to reducing food waste. There is a real demand for sustainable eating.

What kind of containers are you using to serve food?
We serve canapés, i.e. cocktail foodon wooden boards. The portions are easy to prepare and it is very unlikely that they are not consumed.
For lunches, we display the food in medium-size bamboo sharing bowls. It helps the guests take the portion they want. If necessary, we can refill the bowls. It helps to control the portions per guest and reduce waste. Waste is normally very common where you organise a buffet. 
We do not use single use plastic. We provide compostable plates and cutlery and bins for compostable items. We then take back the bins to our warehouse for our recycling company to collect them to produce compost.

How do you deliver food? 
We deliver on our cargo bike for cocktails up to 100 guests. For bigger events, we have a partnership with an electric taxi company.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A beginners guide to reusable nappies

Navigating the world of real nappies can feel a bit overwhelming - especially when you have very little spare time! I don't pretend to be a reusable nappy expert (they do exist). Still, I feel that I've enough experience now to share it with you on this blog. 

Can those Motherease airflow wraps
keep my son's pyjamas dry at night? 

I'll give you a detailed description of the nappies and nappy accessories that I've been using so that you can figure out what's the hell we're talking about when we talk about booster pads, liners, wraps/covers etc. 

Beware buying reusable nappies can turn into a bit of an addiction...There are lots of cute patterns out there!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

An introduction to reusable nappies

Yes, this is my first blog post in over a year! Sorry to have let you down. Where was I during all this time? Changing nappies and trying to survive on very little sleep! 

Last June, I had a baby. It's bit quite an adventure. I feel extremely lucky being a parent, especially as at some point I feared that it would never happen to us. However, to be perfectly honest, the challenge of looking after a small child is much bigger than anticipated. 

B sporting a second-hand Close Pop-In bought on Gumtree

The little beast (aka "le petit burrito" and "little rocket man") still doesn't sleep through the night. And, despite the fact that he goes to nursery full time, juggling my freelance journalist work with all the rest is a balancing act (which won't be news to anyone in the same position, obviously; it's called "being a parent"). Nevertheless, about three months ago, I became seriously committed to using reusable nappies. Better late than never! 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

My bathroom cabinet detox

Over the last 2 and a half years, I've gradually cleaned my bathroom cabinet - i.e. I've stopped using a number of industrial products and I've replaced them with organic/natural ones commercialised by small companies with a conscience.

My motivation is to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals I use on my skin everyday. Why? Because many cosmetics and personal care products can contain chemicals, including endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), "which can cause adverse health effects, and some are potentially linked to breast cancer".

To be frank, I'm yet to apply the same rule to make-up... Although I don't wear make-up every day, I do wear foundation, powder and eyeshadow on a very regular basis. I haven't transitioned to organic cosmetic products yet. But, rather than focusing on what I still need to tackle, I thought I would share with you some practical information about all the positive changes I've made since 2015.

I hope it can be helpful. If you want to find out more about the chemicals that may be linked to breast cancer, I recommend you have a look to Breast Cancer UK #DitchtheJunk information sheet.

This post is NOT sponsored by any brands.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Zero waste broccoli and orange salad

The news that we should eat 10 portions of vegetables and fruit every day "for maximum protection against disease and premature death" cannot have escaped your attention. The findings of a study led by Imperial college have been widely reported in the UK press and abroad - and derided as a near-impossible task by a lot of British publications. 

I don't pretend that I eat 800g of vegetables and fruit religiously every day, i.e. the equivalent of 10 portions. But, by reducing the amount of processed food in my diet - for health reasons and for the sake of reducing the amount of waste I produce - I've automatically increased my veg and fruit consumption. 

From experience, I think the best way to include more fruit and veg in your diet is to :
1 - eat mostly vegetarian food (veg curry & chilli sin carne are some of my favourite veg dishes)   ; 
2 - have a piece of fruit in the morning with porridge, for example ;
3 - snack on an apple or a couple of clementines ;
4 - have grated carrots and other grated raw vegetables as a starter whenever possible ;
5 - eat a fruit for dessert (with or without yogurt).

In short, keep it simple! 

It doesn't mean you cannot be a bit adventurous time to time. Adding a fruit to a veg salad can work very well. I tend to forget about it but somehow got inspired to mix broccoli and orange in a salad the other day. It worked very well! I didn't follow a recipe. I just used (almost) all the veg I had in my fridge - including a sad looking half fennel bulb and a few floppy celery branches. 

Ingredients (for a big salad - serves approximately 6 people as a side dish) :
- 1 head of broccoli (boiled for 5-6 minutes maximum and cooled down under the water)
- 1 orange cut into pieces
- 1 spiralized courgette (I have a very basic Joseph & Joseph spiralizer
- half a fennel bulb roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper
- 2-3 branches of celery (cut into small pieces)
- a handful of pumpkin seeds (roast them in a pan for 6 minutes or so)

For the dressing, I mixed:
- some olive oil
- the juice of half a lemon (but you can probably use a bit more if you want a zestier flavour)
- salt, pepper
- a table spoon of liquid honey
- a sprinkling of ras el hanout (a mix of spices that I happened to have in my spice drawer)

I can't give you the exact quantities. I've improvised it. I do strongly recommend that you prepare the dressing separately in a small bowl. Therefore, you'll be able to try it and adjust quantities before adding it to the salad. 

Do you have a recipe that mixes fruit and veg? If so, leave a comment below this article. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

My resolutions for 2017

In 2017 I will...

1. Keep refusing plastic straws and let people know how much of a scourge they are for wild life and the planet in general. Don't feed me plastic! 

2. Give talks to fellow residents in my local area to let them know what they can do day to day to reduce their waste, save money and (re)discover small pleasures - all in one go.
For example, making tea with loose leaves (instead of using tea bags containing plastic), baking bread, using more natural ingredients as cosmetics.

I've been using coconut oil as a moisturiser since January 2016.

3. Use my sewing machine to mend and adjust clothes and also make Morsbags. Textile shouldn't go to waste! (And, no, you cannot throw old pants nor socks nor any textile with your household waste - that's a reminder for my other half, by the way)

4. Grow herbs in my garden in the summer. Everything tastes better with fresh herbs.

Mint is one of my favourite herbs - with basil.

5. Meet up with other zero waste advocates in London and share tips for a more sustainable and enjoyable life. 

What's your zero waste resolution for 2017?