Green Winter Warmers – Draught Excluders

Draught excludersNow that autumn has hit Cape Town, with a breath of winter to come, it’s time to think of keeping warm and keeping down those electricity bills.

We all know that good insulation is key to reducing heat loss and beating the cold winter nights, but rather than starting a major project, let’s look at a small, very do-able DIY measure to keep warmer this winter – keeping out those sneaky draughts, which chill feet and ankles and persuade us to turn up the heater another notch.

Draught excluders are so easy to make that even a total non-sewer like me could make one, if only I’d get around to it. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered together to help me make mine. Continue reading

Re-use Cereal Boxes As Disposable Compost Bins

Re-use cereal boxes as compost binsIf you have a compost heap, eat boxed cereals and don’t like too many plastic buckets cluttering up your kitchen, this idea for instant disposable compost bins could work for you, as well as it works for us.

An empty cereal box makes a great container for compostable kitchen waste. The great thing about it from my point of view is that it is only large enough for a few days worth of vegetable peels, so that we take it out to the compost heap more frequently, reducing the likelihood of flies and fruit flies in the kitchen. When it goes out to the heap, the peels are emptied on to the heap and the cardboard box gets torn into pieces and added to the compost. Then we start fresh with the next empty box.

compost binA cereal box is neat and fits into a smaller space than a plastic bucket would do. There is no washing out of buckets, or build up of mouldy stuff that you sometimes get when the bucket takes too long to fill. And as a bonus you are automatically adding more carbon dense material to balance out all those green kitchen scraps. Plus recycling and re-using some of your excess cardboard.

compost heap

Reduce Plastic Waste – Never Buy Another Freezer Bag

Re-use yoghurt pots for the freezerFreezer bags are temptingly convenient. A nice neat roll, all sizes and clean. But buying plastic bags just to use them once and then throw them away really doesn’t make sense, either from a frugal point of view or an environmental one.

I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use and one thing I’ve found that I can totally do without is purpose made freezer bags. Here are alternative ideas that work just as well.

Re-use yoghurt pots
One litre sized yoghurt pots with lids are perfect for freezing small batches of cooked food, stocks, fruit purees and any other liquid or semi-liquid food. They are also good for freezing berries. Write on the lid with a permanent marker or use a sticky label to identify the contents – otherwise you’ll find yourself getting out stock when you want berries and vice versa.

Re-use other plastic containers
Think twice before recycling or throwing out any sturdy plastic container. Ice cream tubs, margarine tubs and any other similar food containers can be saved and re-used in the freezer. Check the recycling number on the plastic to make sure it doesn’t contain BPA. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are very unlikely to; numbers 3 and 7 may do. Containers can be re-used several times, but if they start looking scratched or otherwise damaged then it is time to recycle them. Plastic in contact with food should always be undamaged to avoid possible chemical contamination.

Re-use cereal bags
The inner bags of cereal packets are a prime example of useful bags that rarely if ever get re-used. Save them up and use them as freezer bags.  Make sure you shake all the fine crumbs out of them, then use them for freezing dry goods, such as bread, cookie dough, breadcrumbs. They could also work well for freezing blanched vegetables, if you have an excess in the garden. The only problem with these is sealing them effectively. Try to push as much air out as possible, then fold over the ends of the bag at least twice. Close it with a peg or a tie, depending on what works best for you.

Glass containers
There are more and more glass containers with lids available these days that are freezer proof. Some are also microwave proof. Start investing in a few of these as and when you can afford them. Having a good stock of permanent containers cuts down on the amount of disposable containers you use. Some people use canning jars to freeze food in. Make sure you leave enough space for expansion as the food freezes, so that the glass isn’t cracked by the pressure.

As a general rule allow food frozen in glass to defrost thoroughly before heating, as a sudden temperature change can shatter it.

Just this small adjustment in thinking will save you money and save the environment from that much more plastic waste. I’m sure there are plenty more possibilities that I haven’t listed here – do you have any freezer container ideas to share?

Also check out the comments in this article on doing without plastic bags in the freezer for some more great ideas.

The Pot Fridge Without Electricity

Pot fridge without electricityGround breaking ideas can be very simple and this energy free refrigerator is a great example. It is so simple that you can make it yourself!

The fridge consists of two terracotta pots. The smaller one sits inside the larger one and the gap between them is filled with sand. The sand is kept wet and the top is covered by a wet cloth or lid. The cooling effect works by the evaporation of the water through the porous sides of the larger pot, which cools the inner pot and its contents.

This idea was re-invented in 1995 by Mohammed Bah Abba, who recognised what a difference it could make to those living without electricity in his country. By preserving food for longer they could improve their lives, for example allowing children to spend more time in school instead of having to sell the family’s fresh produce in the market every single day.

How can we use this idea to improve our lives? After all most of us, if we are reading this on a computer will have a refrigerator already. There are several ways that this pot fridge could be used to help with green living:

  • Run a smaller fridge, just big enough for your everyday needs, and use the pot fridge to take the extra goods when you are having a party or otherwise need more fridge space. A smaller fridge needs less electricity to run than a large one.
  • Often fresh vegetables and fruits don’t actually need to be refrigerated, but do benefit from a cool storage space. The pot fridge can be used for fresh produce in hot weather, keeping it fresher for longer and allowing you to use a smaller fridge for the rest of your essential groceries.
  • If you keep a second fridge in an occasionally used area, perhaps in a guest room or garage, think of replacing it with a pot fridge. The pot can be used intermittently with no detrimental effects. When it’s not in use it just dries up. To start using it, simply wet the sand again and keep it damp.
  • If you regularly go camping to the same place, consider keeping a pot fridge there, instead of taking a gas camping fridge with you. Just start it up when you arrive by wetting the sand and leave it behind for next time to save space in your vehicle.
  • A pot fridge can be a great insurance against power outages. If you are affected by blackouts keep a pot fridge on the go to minimise the spoilage of your refrigerator contents.
  • The pot fridge is perfect for market stalls, where you are selling fresh produce. On hot days your goods can all be wilting within a couple of hours, but with this, you can keep your supplies fresh and just display one or two items at a time on top of the damp cloth lid.

Remember that a pot fridge does need regular maintenance to run effectively. It relies on the sand being wet to keep it cool. As soon as the sand dries out the cooling effect ceases. In hot weather you may need to re-wet the sand twice a day.

Important note: the pot refrigerator works best in a hot dry climate. The evaporation is what cools the inside. In a very humid climate far less evaporation takes place, so the cooling effect doesn’t work as well.

10 Ideas For Re-using Old Business Cards

book from old business cardsDo you have a stack of old business cards that you can no longer use? When your phone number changes, or your job title, or you leave that company altogether, what can you do all those spares? Just throwing them away is almost a crime in these eco-conscious days; recycling them is one option; but as always re-using and re-purposing them is best of all.

If you think creatively there are loads of ways to make use of old business cards, almost enough for you to wish you had some handy, because they can be used in a thousand different ways. Here are just ten ideas.

1. Gift tags – glue the printed side onto some pretty coloured paper or once-used wrapping paper. Punch a hole in one end for some ribbon or raffia and the blank side is all ready to write your To and From details. You can even trim the edges with scalloped craft scissors if you want to get fancy.

2. Mini note pads – Clip a small stack of cards together blank side up and keep them near the phone for scribbling messages.

3. Labels for filing cabinet drawers and hanging files.

4. Art canvases – let the kids make multiple pieces of mini-art on the blank sides and stage an art exhibition. Get creative yourself too with crayons and colouring pencils.

5. Playing cards – Make your own pack of playing cards by drawing the card suits and numbers on the blank side.

6. Stencils – Cut a shape out of the card and use it as a stencil, either for small details when home decorating or just as a fun art project. Also great when you are making home-made Christmas cards.

7. Cue cards – if you have to give a talk or speech, use a stack of cards as cue cards. They are small but discreet and have just enough room for a memory jogging sentence.

8. Revision notes – If you or your kids have an exam or test looming, use a stack of business cards to jot down notes of important points to remember as a memory aid.

9. Card houses – do you remember building card houses with playing cards – why not use business cards instead – see how tall a tower you can make.

10.  Punch a hole in the corner and keep a few on your keychain. Write notes, lists and reminders for the day on them.

Also check out this great idea for mini photo books made from business cards as in the photo above.

And when you get a new set of business cards printed, make sure you ask for eco-friendly recycled paper stock and non-toxic inks – get a design you know will last, so that you don’t end up with a huge stack of unused business cards to repurpose… unless of course you had such fun with this lot that you want leftovers!

How To Go Green With Business Cards

The green approach to business cards can benefit from the overall green mantra being applied to it: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Yes, business cards are essential in today’s business climate, but they don’t have to be wasteful, they can be functional and they should always be recyclable!

That means a big NO to the latest trend in plastic business cards – yes they last longer, but do you really want to be advertising your business 100 years from now in the landfill?

Reduce
Have fewer business cards printed. See if you can get a deal with a printing company whereby they will keep your design on record and print them off in smaller batches as you need them. There’s nothing more wasteful than a huge batch of business cards ordered one year, only for you to change some details and need a new one before you’ve even used half of them.

Re-use
Find ways of making your business cards re-usable. The obvious use would be as bookmarks and coffee mats, but you can get really creative with this. Here are some ideas we like
re-usable clothes-peg business cardre-usable elastic band business cardOr re-use old business cards and hand-write your details on the back to make a statement:

re-use old business cards
Recycle
It goes without saying that your business cards should be recyclable. Stick with paper and card and avoid the metallic and plastic effects that are becoming popular now. Even better go for recycled card and paper and vegetable based inks which are available at most eco-conscious printers these days.Here is one place to go for printing green business cards in Cape Town.

If your business is seriously green in mindset and a slick image is less important than an authentically green one, make your own cards by recycling cardboard from cereal packets, tea boxes and so on. cardboard stamped business card

Or re-use scrap office paper.

recycled scrap paper business cardIf you’ve got some great ideas or great pics of green business cards, please do share!

Live Christmas Trees

live christmas trees

© Gingergirl | Dreamstime.com

If you are about to go out and buy your Christmas tree, think twice about buying a cut tree that will barely last through the festive season in South Africa’s hot Christmas weather.

Buying a live tree, that you can plant out in the garden when Christmas is over, is definitely a green alternative. Some people have one that they plant out and dig up year after year successfully.

But why not go one step further along the alternative tree route? Does your Christmas tree even have to be a traditional pine or spruce? Why not buy a large indigenous tree in a container, ready for planting out in your garden in the New Year, one that will take a permanent place in your garden.

While not all indigenous trees can take the strain of being loaded down with Christmas ornaments and sparkling lights, some of them are sturdy enough to consider, especially if you go for a more stylish and minimal style of decoration!

An important thing to consider if you are going for a live Christmas tree – it will need watering regularly over the Christmas period to keep it healthy enough to plant out later. Make sure that you position a drip tray under its pot so that your pile of presents doesn’t get sodden before Christmas Day!

Another issue in the winter rainfall area of South Africa is that mid-summer isn’t really an ideal planting out time for large trees. Your Christmas tree will need lots of TLC after Christmas, with regular watering to help it adjust and settle in through the hot weather. Consult your large tree nursery to get advice on how to make this work for you.

With all that said however, there is something lovely about choosing a  Christmas tree that makes a positive contribution to the environment and isn’t just a seasonal throwaway. Enjoy your green Christmas!

Greener Business Cards – Eco-friendly Alternatives

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, business cards are still necessary for business networking. Only the techies seem to have got the hang of digital business cards so far and even then it’s not simple with so many different apps and platforms to choose between.

But determined eco-freaks can find a way around anything and more and more creative ideas are coming into play. One of my favourites is this:

The business card stamp
Design yourself a business card stamp and have it made up either as a self-inking stamp or a simple stamp to use with an ink pad. Make sure it uses non-toxic soy based inks, of course – we’re talking eco here not cheapo.
Now you have the freedom to stamp your business card on any paper or card you like – empty cereal boxes, thick cardboard boxes rescued from the recycling pile, re-used envelopes, even sturdy leaves gathered in your garden. You can also stamp your info directly into a contact’s address book or note book, so it is less likely to get lost.

Pros:
No wastage of paper. You only print the cards as they are needed.
You are making an eco-statement.
You can vary the recycled paper you print the cards on according to the networking event.
Cheaper than having a stack of cards printed.

Cons:
Design has to be simple, so can’t fit in lots of additional information.
Can look too home-spun for some, not suitable for a slick image.

Green Printing Services
Of course if you are looking for something more traditional for your business cards but want to make sure they are green, look out for a green printing service in your area. You can then have slick design and a green ethos, by using post-consumer recycled paper, vegetable-based inks and more from a company with a carbon neutral standing.

Do your research first to find a genuinely environmentally friendly company. And don’t forget to to have  an eco-statement printed on the back of your business cards, such as ‘printed on 100% recycled paper’ so that everyone knows that your slick company image is still eco-friendly. If you are Cape Town based check out Deep Design’s business card printing service for plenty of green printing options.

Newspapers – Reuse Before You Recycle

© Oleg Pidodnya | Dreamstime.com

Recycling newspapers is easy enough to do, and recycled paper can be made into many products but, before you recycle that stack of papers, think about re-using them.

In fact there are so many ways of using old newspapers around the home, that I am dreading the day when there is no-one left in our family actually reading the things. My husband gets his news electronically, so we never buy them and rely on the older generation for our supply, my mother-in- law, who still buys a daily paper to keep in touch. What we will do if she gives up the news habit, I really don’t know! Any ideas?

Here are just a few of the uses that they can be put to.

1. Soaking up spills, pet urine and other unfortunate puddles.
A few sheets of newspaper will quickly soak the liquid up away from the floor, making the clean up easier. Our three dogs lose all their house training when there are storms and we wake up to puddles in the house, so this is a frequent need, going through stacks of paper in no time in winter. The paper can then be added to the compost heap, if you can bear to tear it into slightly smaller pieces so that it will decompose properly.

2. Lighting fires.
Newspaper is an essential kindling for any fire. Twist a few sheets lengthwise into loose screws and place under the rest of the kindling (small slivers of wood, pine cones etc), to get your fire going without any need for fire lighters.

3. Lining pet cages
Bunnies and guinea-pigs need regular cleaning of their cages. It makes it a whole lot easier if you place several sheets of newspaper at the bottom of the cage to soak up urine and water spills. The whole lot  can be lifted out when dirty and discarded on the compost heap.

4. Wrapping paper
Large items can be tricky to wrap and require huge amounts of expensive new wrapping paper to cover. Go retro and pick out the best pages of newspaper for wrapping Christmas gifts. Choose the cartoon pages for kids, fun headlines for adults and so on. Tie it all with re-usable ribbon or raffia, saved from last Christmas, and you have a totally green, recyclable wrapping for free.

5. Planting trees
Trees planted in light sandy soils need help to retain moisture around their roots, especially in hot, dry climates, such as the Western Cape in summer.. Torn newspapers added to the base of the planting hole before the compost will help moisture retention and give the tree a good start. This is especially important if you are planting large trees which need all the help they can get to settle in.

These are just a few of the things we use newspaper for. What about you? Share any great green tips with us in the comments.

Re-use – 3 things you don’t need to recycle

© Kit Heathcock

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by all there is to do to make my lifestyle as green as possible, I go back to the fundamental  mantra for green living: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.

Recycling is essential, but first on the list is Reduce. Reduce the amount of non-essentials you bring into your home in the first place, in the way of packaging, cheap plastic freebies from supermarkets and take-away food chains, promotional leaflets, junk mail and so on.

Then comes Re-use. Re-use anything you can possibly think of before it hits the recycling bin. This is where you need to get imaginative and creative. Re-using jam jars for your own preserves is one obvious example, but there are so many other things that will keep resources in use for longer and so reduce the carbon footprint of each item. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Jam jars – besides your own jam making, jam jars have a multitude of possible uses: vases for posies of herbs and garden flowers; water glasses when you break the last of your conventional glasses; funky containers for party jellies/jellos; lanterns for festivals; pen-holders….

T-shirts – worn T-shirts can also be re-used in many ways: holey ones can be cut up into squares for all-purpose cleaning cloths; they can be cut into strips for rag rugs; they can be used for stuffing cushions or toys. T-shirts in reasonable condition can be re-purposed as skirts, nighties or kids dress up outfits.

Envelopes – Plain envelopes in good condition can simply be re-used with a blank label covering the address. Envelopes that are slightly worn can make good receptacles for collecting your receipts together every month. Torn envelopes are the perfect size for telephone notes or for shopping lists; simply use a paper clip or other clip to keep them all together in a handy place and grab one whenever you have the urge to make lists.

Got any other great ideas for re-using common household items? Let me know in the comments, so we can share all our  best green living tips here!