Saturday, 30 January 2016

Yesterday's bread never tasted so good

As January is coming to an end, it has become obvious that waste reduction is becoming a trend in the UK. I attended my first zero waste business launch on Thursday. On the same day, a zero waste pop-up restaurant called Tiny Leaf opened its doors in Notting Hill. And it's not just a London phenomenon. In Leicester, a new vegetable box scheme promises to reduce waste by delivering wonky vegetables at a low price.

All the bakery items at the event had been donated by Gail's bakery.
They were collected by volunteers. 

But back to London and to the Day Old launch. It was a bit of a rare occasion - a breakfast launch where you were actually encouraged to have breakfast! It wasn't one of those breakfast media events where you feel a bit of a freeloader for having an entire croissant. And then you are left wondering where all the uneaten muffins end up. Torture. 

Have your bread and eat it
Rescuing day old bread and bakery items is actually the mission of Day Old. All the bread, scones and cakes available on the launch had been supplied by Gail's bakery, a London chain of artisan bakeries. People were even encouraged to leave with a box of free day old treats to take into the office as a way to advertise Day Old's business. I left with an entire loaf. 

I was given a loaf of bread on my way out. The best of freebies.

The new social enterprise, created by six women from all over the globe, has already organised lunchtime pop-up stalls at a couple of big companies and also did the catering for an office Christmas party. Their aim is to create a secondary market for bakery products. The profits generated will go to charities tackling child hunger in the UK. 

Rescued treats, Toast ale and other ways to reduce food waste
Bread is the most wasted food in the UK, as Abi Ramanan from Day Old reminded people at the launch. Even if Day Old just scratches the surface of the ocean of food waste created by the 24 millions of slices of bread binned in the UK each day, it will be significant.

There are different routes to tackle food waste. A beer brewed from fresh surplus bread has just been launched. Toast ale is a new beer crafted by Tristam Stuart, the founder of Feed the 5000. In France it is possible to buy "le pain de la veille" (yesterday's bread) in certain bakeries. My parents did recently buy a nice sourdough at a reduced price in Montpellier where they live. It's a simple but very effective way for a baker to reduce one's surplus. However, what works for sourdough doesn't necessarily work for other bakery items. Hence, the necessity to have businesses such as Day Old. 

When will the UK have a food waste bill?
We need all those initiatives to tackle food waste - and more. A UK food waste bill is critical to taking the food waste battle to another level - supermarkets would be under the obligation to donate surplus food. Fifteen million tonnes of food was thrown away in the UK in 2013. It's one THIRD of the 41 million tonnes of food bought annually. Only 2% of this food is currently redistributed to charities. 

The bill put forward by Kerry McCarthy MP was supposed to have its second reading at the House of Commons yesterday. It has been postponed. Meanwhile, France is about to vote its food waste bill next Wednesday. Let's hope that it will incentivised the government on this side of the channel to follow suit. If French people can reduce food waste, surely British people also can do it, can they? ; )  

Monday, 18 January 2016

Am I about to change my mind about Ikea?

Whenever I walk into an Ikea store I am on the verge of suffocation. Lots of people. Lots of stuff. Lots of people piling lots of stuff onto trolleys. Some useful stuff like bedding. Some less obviously useful items (weird looking soft toys, scented candles etc.). 

Now, before someone accuses me of being an hypocrite or a snob, I have to come clean and disclose the fact that I have shopped in Ikea in the past. I am also certain that I will buy more items from the Swedish brand in the coming months. 

Ikea, my organic coffee supplier
For one thing, I buy organic coffee from Ikea. At £1.90 a packet, it's the cheapest organic coffee I have ever found in the UK. And because I live 15 minutes away by foot from Ikea Wembley I can go there with the sole purpose of buying organic coffee from Ikea. Living so close from the North Circular Road does come with some tangible upsides. (Don't be jealous.)

A minimalist nightmare
So what's my problem with Ikea? When you are trying to reduce the amount of objects in your life, walking into Ikea is a profoundly sadomasochist act. Every opportunity is good to try to sell you some kind of storage, for example. If you want to recycle your waste, apparently, you need a countless number of shiny plastic boxes. Also, most of the things are so cheap that you don't think long and hard about your purchases. 

"Peak stuff"
The good news is that in the near future I may be able to walk into an Ikea store with a smile upon my face. Steve Howard, Ikea's head of sustainability, thinks that we may have reached "peak stuff". "We will be increasingly building a circular Ikea where you can repair and recycle products", he said during a debate organised by the Guardian Sustainable Business

Business sense 
The Guardian thinks that Howard made a big mistake by being so honest and saying something contrary to Ikea's interests. I know that, being a bit obsessed with recycling and the circular economy, I am inevitably biased. However, I don't think that Steve Howard had a oops moment at all during this debate. This message is consistent with last Christmas' IKEA advert released in Spain (click here). Also, the blog IKEAHackers was created in 2006 and has encountered a huge success (click here for the story behind it). So maybe it's time for IKEA to catch-up with the upcycling and DIY trends. 

The surge of upcycling & DIY spaces 
Across the Channel, in France there are more and more spaces offering people the opportunity to create their own furniture. DIY stores Leroy Merlin has opened a TechShop in the outskirts of Paris last November. It's a 2000 square meter space where you can go and use all sorts of equipment under the supervision of a team of specialist makers. And it's not just a French phenomenon. Type "upcycling" on Twitter and Instagram to get an idea about how popular this trend is becoming. In London 5 community reuse spaces have been recently created in order to reduce fly-tipping.

In short, I think it would just make business sense for Ikea to follow suit. Can I suggest to use Ikea Wembley to give the upcycling space a trial? I promise to be there on the first day of opening. The book shelves that I have had for the last ten years could do with a spot of upcycling, even though I got them for free when I was a student in Lille...

Have you ever "hacked" some IKEA furniture? Do you think it's a good idea for furniture shops to create upcycling and DIY spaces? Let me know your thoughts. 

Friday, 15 January 2016

How to find a new home for your stuff

You have clothes, books, kitchen wares etc. that you don't need anymore but you may not know where to donate them. Or maybe you are willing to part with some of your belongings but you also want to make sure that they will help towards a good cause. 
This list is by no means exhaustive. I haven't listed the very well-known charity shops - specifically because they are very well-known. If you want to suggest some other websites or organisations based in London, feel free to mention them in the comments. 

Olio - food (Greater London)
A relatively new app that enables you to reduce your food waste. 
If you need to empty your cupboard before moving out or you are about to go on a holiday but have plenty of good food in store that will go to waste, Olio enables you to find people interested in taking your food surplus off your hands. 
I haven't tried Olio yet but I am all for reducing food waste!

Emmaus - furniture, clothes, electrical items (England, Scotland, Wales)
A charity helping homeless people to get back on their feet and tackling social exclusion in general.
Emmaus is a very well-know charity in France. It has been operating in the UK since the 1990s. In 2014-2015 Emmaus saved more than 4000 tonnes of goods from going to landfill. Many of Emmaus communities have workshops where companions, staff and volunteers work together to restore furniture. 
Emmaus has 4 shops in London. They can collect donations!

Enviromate - construction materials (UK wide) 
You can either trade or donate building materials. You don't need to be a tradesman to join. I've discovered this website this week and I've immediately set up an account as I am about to start some renovation work. My aim is to use Enviromate to reduce the amount of materials going to landfill. 
I'll let you know how it goes.  

The Bike Project - bikes (London)
This award winning charity gives bikes to refugees, teach them how to cycle in London and also how to repair bikes. 
To give them your old bike, you have to register it on their website and drop it at one of their 6 collection points (NW11, N12, E8, E1W, SE5, SW19). 

TRAID - clothes (UK)
It's a charity working to stop clothes from being thrown away. 
You can donate in one of their stores or drop your clothes in a bag in one of their banks. You can also arrange a collection at your home if you have prepared a big pile of clothes for them to collect. Click here to book a collection. 
Until February 1st TRAID collects clothes for refugees. You can drop off donations in bags clearly marked 'For refugees' in one of TRAID's 11 charity shops, in their Wembley warehouse. Click here to find out more about this special operation. 

You can also post free adverts on FreegleStreetbank and Streetlife. You can also check what your local homeless shelter needs. When my husband was travelling a lot of work, he was collecting wash bags from airlines. A couple of years ago I gave a big bag full of them to Ashford Place in Cricklewood. 

P.S: if one of you needs a cat net give me a shout! I received this unwanted gift last year when I ordered some food for my cat. I think cat nets are safety nets to stop your cat jumping of the window. Freebies are a scourge. They should be banned, in my opinion. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Old kitchen found new home

We did it. We donated our old kitchen. It won't end up in a landfill. It is a massive relief.
This fitted kitchen was installed on the first floor of our house - currently split into two flats. It was old. It was blue. Apart from that, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it. The fact is that te had to get rid of it to turn the flats back into one property. We didn't need the kitchen. It didn't mean that it was not needed somewhere else. 

A match made on Streetlife
So, ten days ago, full determination to reduce my waste, I put an advert on my local Streetlife page and my local Freegle group page to find a new home for it. A few days passed without anyone contacting me. I started feeling quite pessimistic about our chances to get rid of it in a sustainable way - and without having to pay for its disposal (more on that later). 

The advert I posted on Streetlife for free

On Friday, Nadia contacted me. She was very eager to replace the kitchen in her rented flat (with the authorisation of her landlord). I asked her by email whether she wanted to come and have a look at the kitchen to make sure that she liked it. However, it wasn't very practical for Nadia to come and have a look at the kitchen (she has one child and expecting another one). It wasn't necessary either, she told me. Judging by the photos, she could see that the kitchen was much better than her current one. She wanted it. A day and time was then arranged for Nadia's husband to come and pick up the kitchen. 

Is it good enough? 
When I told my husband about the fact that I had found a family for our kitchen, he wasn't that relieved. "Have you told them that it's old? And blue?" Although Ben had initially agreed that the kitchen was good enough to be donated to someone, he was feeling guilty. To the point that I was almost unsure myself whether we were doing the right thing. Were we trying to dump an horrible, useless sets of cabinets onto an unknown couple? I quickly regained my judgement. No, we were not being mean. We were being generous and practical. 

Yesterday, Nadia's husband came with a friend of his. In one hour, they took the kitchen down and charged it onto a van. Later in the afternoon, Nadia sent me a lovely email thanking us for the kitchen. She promised to send me a photo of the kitchen once it's installed. 

Donating our kitchen saved us some money
In all honesty, Nadia and her husband did us a favour by taking the kitchen cabinets, worktop and sink off our hands. Donating this kitchen saved us a few hundreds pounds. Last October, when we dismantled our big garden shed, we had to rent a van. We also had to pay a £95 disposal charge at our local recycling centre. Gardens sheds, demolition materials, bathrooms units and kitchen units are some of the waste that the Abbey Road centre recycles for a charge. It certainly makes you thing harder about how you can keep your waste to a minimum. 

After the very positive experience with donating my kitchen, I now feel more motivated than ever to find a home for the items that we will end up getting rid of as a result of our house renovation project. I'll keep you updated. 

P.S: as promised, Nadia sent me photos of the installed kitchen. It looks nice!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

My food battles. Act I.

Last Monday, I cycled to Maida Vale and ended up in Clifton Greens, an independent greengrocer located on Clifton Road. The selection of fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs, dried fruit and nuts you find there is absolutely incredible. I always feel like a kid in a candy shop whenever I step into into Clifton Greens. All the produce are beautifully arranged. It's a real pleasure to browse around the shop. 

Clifton Greens
I was all the more happy to have stopped there for some shopping that I managed to buy almost exclusively "naked" items - items sold without any packaging.  Thyme was the exception. It came wrapped in a plastic sleeve. It just made me more determined to grow my own. A few days later, I bought a small thyme plant. Growing my own herbs is one of my resolutions for the year ahead.

My vegetable shopping from Clifton Greens

Bulk Peruvian quinoa vs packaged British quinoa
On Wednesday, two days later, I managed to do some more plastic free shopping. Yeah, baby! I bought some nuts and grains in bulk from the Whole Foods Market in Richmond. However, on this particular food shopping trip, I was faced with a pretty tough food buying dilemma. Should I buy quinoa in bulk from South America or British grown quinoa wrapped in a non-recyclable plastic bag?

It didn't take too long to make my mind up. I went for Hodmedod's British grown quinoa on the basis that it doesn't make sense to ship a produce from the other side of the world if the same produce is grown at home.

Still, I felt frustrated. First, the packaging is clearly not recyclable. Second, this product is only available in one size. I'd rather buy a bigger bag if possible - in order to reduce the amount of packaging used overall. Third, as the majority of food brands out there, a lot of Hodmedod's products are sold in tins. I love their British vaal dhal but they don't sell in small Tetra Pak cartons. It's a shame because NOT buying cans is another one of my resolutions for 2016.

Why I kicked cans out of my life
It may sound a bit strange as a resolution. In fact, it's probably the one thing I am the more determined to stick to for health reasons. In the UK, cans are lined with bisphenol A (also known as BPA). BPA is a very nasty chemical responsible, among others, for breast cancers. It is also linked to a range of other conditions including obesity, heart disease, infertility, diabetes and recurrent miscarriages. In France, since last year, BPA is banned in food packaging.

So, unless I move back to France (which I am not planning to), how am I going to avoid buying tin food this year? One solution consists in buying dry beans, soaking them and cooking them. Let's be real. It's not going to happen very often. I'm not that organised. Another possibility to avoid tin food is to buy Tetra Pak cartons of chopped tomatoes, for example, instead of tins of chopped tomatoes. (You can find some in Sainsbury's and in some Tesco shops.) Cartons don't contain BPA.

The very annoying thing is that there are very few brands which sell their products in cartons. So I've decided to start a list of the brands that do and write to all the brands I except to sell their products in Tetra pak packages. My first email will be for Hodmedod's. And this is just the beginning.

Living a zero waste life is not just a way to collect pretty glass jars. It's a way to protect both the planet and my own health. It also implies lobbying industrials to force them to take our health into consideration. Don't expect them to do this off their own initiative.

Check out the Breast Cancer UK website. It has a whole section dedicated to easy steps to reduce risks linked to chemicals. 

Do you make your own cleaning products or beauty products? Let me know. I am always curious to know what other people are doing to reduce their exposure to toxic products. 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Small changes. Big impact.

Five or six years ago, I decided that I had enough of buying vegetables and fruit wrapped up in plastic at the supermarket. So I signed up to an organic vegetable box. It enabled me to eat mainly British seasonal produce. It also inspired me to cook more varied food. The fact that I could have a nice chat with my vegman every Tuesday was an unexpected but really enjoyable bonus.
At the time, I was already concerned by the protection of the environment. But it had not heard of the zero waste movement. Every week, I consciously recycled my paper and plastic waste. Yet, I had to empty my pedal bin every 3 or 4 days. That didn't strike me as a major issue. I was already going the extra mile recycling my bottle milks and newspapers by walking to my local recycling point. What else could I do? It wasn't until 2011 that my local council started collecting my food waste.

"I don't need a plastic bag, thank you"
Food waste collection by my local council was a major help in reducing my waste - especially as I lived in a flat at the time. On top of that, over the years, as I grew increasingly worried about climate change, I proceeded to introduce more changes to my life. For example, since 2014 my use of plastic carrier bag has dropped massively. Whenever I go shopping - for food or else, I take a rucksack or a tote bag with me. I also make a point of not buying plastic bottles. I bought a stainless water bottle from Oxfam. I take it with me if I go for an extended walk or I am out for most of the day. 

My main zero waste "weapons"

How I became a passionate cook
Also, since February 2013 and the horse-meat scandal, I've stopped buying ready meals. I cook from scratch every day. The majority of the times, I don't see it as a chore. I enjoy cooking. It hasn't always been the case. Granted, I don't have any children and I work from home. I have more time than other people to cook. But I have to say that I do it even when I am a bit pressed with time. On those particular days, I just keep things very simple. Preparing poached eggs on bread or a soup is quick, easy and delicious. The more you cook, the easier it gets, believe me!
Those various changes have been inspired by many different things. A desire to be healthier and a determination to live more in accordance with my principles are part of the picture. I also want to get more control over my life and my environment. For this reason, since last February, I've reduced my meat consumption to almost zero. 

My challenges for 2016
As a result of all the changes listed above, nowadays, the amount of non-recyclable waste I and my husband produce every week is very small - just a few hundred grams, I believe. I also think that we are a bit healthier. I don't think that we have as many colds as we used to. 

This year, I'd like to go even further in my waste reduction and aspiration to a healthier life. 
1. I am starting a sewing class next week. (I've no idea what my sewing abilities are. It's a bit scary.)
2. I intend to start growing some herbs and vegetables. I want to learn about permaculture. 
3. I am planning to get some chickens around March. A good way to use food waste!
4. I've also promised myself to try making my own beauty products. I get more and more scared by the health impact of super nasty chemicals in industrial beauty products. 

Last but not least, I will update this blog every week to help other zero wasters in London and elsewhere live a sustainable life. I've never felt such a sense of urgency before. 

Are you trying to reduce your waste and lead a more sustainable life? What habits have you taken as a result? We all have different challenges. I'd like to hear about yours. Leave a comment or email me at