Thursday, 31 July 2008

Art exhibition in a hardware shop

An American friend of My Eco Self sent me a link to this video of an art exhibition in a hardware shop, Crest Hardware in Brooklyn. Still fancying myself as a bit of an art critic since my appreciation of the Two for Joy exhibition, I am gutted to discover the event is over, even though the likelihood of finding me in Brooklyn in New York's oppressive midsummer humidity is very slim indeed. My Eco Self appreciates the probably well thought through eco-strategy of multitasking and reusing old hardware as art.

The video is from The Green House. They have videos on lots of green topics, including how to make yogurt in a cardboard box. My Eco Self is perfectly satisfied with the organic bio-yogurt which arrives at my door as an add-on to my vegetable box, but appreciates that someone out there may yearn for a more hands-on approach.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


My Eco Self recently bought some cards from this website, Boutiko. This card is printed using vegetable derived inks on 100% recycled card, and is protected by a compostable cello-bag. There are lots of other nice gifty things for sale too.

Ordering in bulk to save packaging

My Eco Self is proud of myself for sticking to the money fast, albeit having frequently scribbled a list of things I absolutely had to have as soon as it is finished.
I decide to place a bulk supermarket order to reduce packaging waste. My order includes multiple 6-packs of tinned tomatoes, 12-pack toilet rolls, and 4kg boxes of washing powder. Unpacking the toilet rolls proves somewhat of a challenge in a flat not blessed with inventive storage solutions. Food Neurotic Friend comes round for dinner.
“Have you got any spare birthday cards?”
“Look in the cupboard,” I suggest, reminded of the reason for my self-imposed upper price limit on birthday cards; FNF is a frequent pilferer, not offering financial recompense with the frequent excuse that he has taken me on a number of VIP press evenings with a high perceived financial value.
“Why are there toilet rolls in here?”
“I’m buying in bulk” I tell him.
“Well,” he says, “I’m sure the price of toilet roll is subject to inflation, like everything else.”
“That’s not the point.”
“With you, everything is about money,” he says, slipping a couple of cards into his backpack, ever bulging with booty from My Eco Self's vegetable box, lending library and all-occasion card stash.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Money fast #3

Now salivating over the Cath Kidston sales catalogue and a limited edition Tesco shopper I didn't even know I needed, I phone FNF with a new strategy in mind.
“Have you bought me a birthday present yet?" I ask. "Would you like to buy me some clothes on the internet?”
“No,” he says, in a tone which does not encourage My Eco Self to persevere. “What about underripe apricots then?” remembering the contents of that week’s vegetable box. “Is there anything inspiring I can do with them?”
“Apricots, mmm….” FNF almost groans down the phone.
Typical, I think. While I’m living like a nun, in last season’s clothes, FNF is having an orgasmic fit over an apricot.
“Can I come round for dinner?” I ask, “I’ve don't have anything to eat except vanilla extract and apricots?”
“But that’s a perfect combination” he says, “stewed with a touch of orange juice and sugar.”
I manage to secure myself a dinner invitation as long as I bring the apricots.
“If you had to give something up, what would it be?” I ask him later, through a mouthful of watermelon, feta and mint salad.*
“Women,” he responds without a pause.
An unlikely response. “Have you fallen out with your girlfriend?”
“No,” he replies through pursed lips.
“They’re giving away free energy-saving light bulbs at the supermarket,” I tell him in a faint attempt to cheer him up, my relationship counselling skills rejected. It doesn’t seem to hit the spot.
*There's a recipe for the salad here. Although I usually just artfully arrange the three main ingredients. One of my fellow bloggers, Artichoke, has written about apricots this week. Apparently there are some English producers. Not sure if the same can be said about watermelons, but ours wasn't air-freighted and the salad was delicious.

Cath Kidston shopping bags for Tesco

Jade of the Jungle very helpfully pointed out to me that Tesco are now selling Cath Kidston reusable shopping bags which are raising money for Marie Curie, and are made from recycled plastic bottles.
There's some extra information here from the New Consumer. It looks like I have missed my chance, money fast or not - they are already changing hands on Ebay. But new designs will come out later in the year. I think they should bring out a shopping trolley too.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Money fast #2

I stomp off home in protest. The week’s vegetable box is not inspiring. A Cath Kidston summer sale catalogue drops through my letterbox. Not usually a fan of their chintzy chic, I flick through it before I renegade it to the recycling bin. My Eco Self must get around to writing to all of the middle-aged mummy catalogues which have somehow acquired my address and sternly ask to be removed from their poly-wrapped mailing lists. On page 3 of the catalogue there’s a pretty dress, just my colour, and machine washable. It would look perfect with the navy cotton cardigan on the next page. Potentially accessorised with the beautiful jewel-coloured and lozenge-shaped necklace on the page after that. Perhaps in my stand against dry-cleaning, because of the harsh chemicals which seem to highlight stains I didn’t even know were there, I need to diffuse the quota of dry clean only clothes in my capsule wardrobe. I look online to see the Cath Kidston range in 3-D. When I sneak a look at the availability the dress is sold out in almost all sizes. Buying online would reduce my carbon footprint by eliminating a shopping commute – and in my part of yummy-mummified London that Cath Kidston delivery van would be coming anyway.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Post-Lent fast

Four months after Lent, My Eco Self decides to go on a money fast. I remember reading a feature about an old hack who did the same, and feel convinced that I have as much resolve as a lazy journalist who takes a taxi to the train station every day, when My Eco Self, young and sprightly, would always walk. Per the precedent of the profile I read, I’m allowed to have a full cupboard of food before I begin the challenge. I stock up on essential post-Lenten supplies; my vegetable box, Fair trade chocolate. My Eco Self walks round Waitrose paying extra attention to its laden shelves, and stocking up on harissa paste and vanilla extract to cover the possibility that I might need some for a staple recipe. The money fast coincides with a week of stay at home holiday, instead of a last-minute trip to a sun haven to escape the grim English summer. I feel eco smug.
“But aren’t you just staying at home because you spent too much money on your new kitchen and are only working part-time?” asks Food Neurotic Friend.
No, I tell him firmly, it’s a Lenten gesture, the aim being a simple, Quaker-like existence.
"Aren't you a bit out of date for Lent?" he continues.
“You can't put a timeline on aspiring to a simple lifestyle," I say "and I practically live like a nun anyway.”
“Is that by choice?” he teases.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Antibacterial wipes

There are some health concerns around antibacterial wipes, in particular those which include triclosan. There is some useful information here. The Daily Green also had this recent post on why to avoid antibacterial products.

Ethical Babe sells Earth Friendly Baby's Eco Baby Wipes, which are one of its top-sellers, 100% biodegradable and made with soothing organic chamomile and calendula. Sounds lovely, I would even like to try these on myself!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Signature wrapping

My Eco Self has developed a signature wrapping style, so that I can buy rolls of paper in bulk, minimise waste from half-used single pieces of wrapping paper, and impress friends with my class and stylistic coherence. So that I do not titillate friends with the idea that I may be buying them Tiffany in my reduced-employment state, I deviate from my initial colour scheme of glossy brown with turquoise ribbon, and decide on brown with yellow ribbon instead. To further hone my gift-giving skills, I spend one whole afternoon browsing how-to videos on various wrapping techniques on This is another very productive afternoon in my ever-pressing quest for a niche eco business opportunity, one which will prevent a full-time return to the corporate rat-race when my savings buffer runs out.

Pull along wooden toys

In the UK, there is a really cute pull along dog for sale at Poppet and Me, as well as lots of other wooden toys. In the US, you can buy the same dog at Organic Gift Shop.
I love the party bags on this website, Little Cherry. Although it would be more eco to dispel with them altogether, my Eco Self wonders how many eco-mommas would be the first to set the precedent. Something like a small packet of seeds and a child-sized trowel might be a good parting gift.
In the Guardian, Lucy Siegle gives some more suggestions for an eco party.

First birthday party

My Eco Self is invited to a friend’s daughter’s first birthday party. I am proud of my purchase, a small wooden pull-along dog, durable and bequeathable. I look on in horror at the scene. Half a dozen screaming children are barely visible under a mountain of brightly coloured wrapping and plastic toys. I feel embarrassed for a moment at my non-child-centric signature wrapping of brown paper and a yellow ribbon, the ribbon almost dispensed in recent times due to a lack of necessity but reintroduced to reinforce brand identity and bought in a reusable hair-tying quality. One mum is busy wiping shared plastic toys with strongly-scented antibacterial wipes before she’ll let her child touch them.

My Eco Self, still childless, and newly frugal, stands apart from the scene, feeling isolated and horrified at the piles of sweets and artificially coloured jelly overflowing from small grubby hands.
“He loves the party,” says party parent.
“Yes, I can see,” I say, almost ready to make my escape, grateful at least that my age precludes me from a goody bag of small plastic items made in China.

Friday, 11 July 2008


My Eco Self has exercised incredible restraint in not buying clothes until I am fully informed of the ethical issues, (in reality, until one of my eco business opportunities makes me more financially secure).

I have been watching with interest the recent coverage about Primark, whose recent results have showed a slowdown in growth. This is an interesting comment, from coverage in The Times:

Freddie George, retail analyst at Seymour Pierce, said that Primark's
performance also suggested that better-off consumers were choosing to buy
higher-quality clothing when they decided to spend. He said: "The era of
'throwaway' fashion appears to be coming to an end and it may be the consumer is
now buying less but trading up."*
It seems like a lot of shoppers are adopting my own policy of justifying purchases based on the price per wear.

Also, apparently Drapers, the fashion industry magazine, ran a survey which showed that 42 per cent of shoppers would think twice about shopping at the chain, after a BBC programme showed that Primark were using child labour (they have since dropped those suppliers.) In response to that, there's lots of useful information about their ethical policies on their website, including an informative video here about how they can afford to sell things so cheaply - for example, they don't advertise. They are now part of the Ethical Trading Initiative.

My objection to Primark is not primarily ethical. I have bought plenty of clothes from Primark - or PriMarni, as some call it - but my objection is that I buy things I just don't need, because everything's a bargain. It's got that Ikea factor, where you just can't come out empty-handed (I wrote about this here.) I think if I style it up a la Sarah Jessica Parker with something more expensive, no-one will be able to tell that I'm wearing a £1 pair of sunglasses. My new strategy is to just not go inside. And anyway, after a while, the appeal of plastic shoes wears off (I have feet issues, and believe in investing in that area, as I've also written about previously, here.)

*NB: I should get myself a job as a part-time investment analyst to supplement any shortfall from pursuing a eco business opportunity - I could have come up with this myself.

Life without plastic

Thanks to Matt, who has recommended this website, Life without Plastic, which sells stainless steel food containers, which should be light enough to carry to the shops. They come in different sizes, but they aren't huge. I think they only ship to the US and Canada.

In the UK, the only website I have found which sells these is Amazon - it looks like the same brand as in the picture.

I've just had an idea: I'm going to email Unlimited and ask them for their considered opinion (or suggestions) of eco-friendly containers for larger quantities. If I'm going to buy unpackaged, I might as well buy in bulk.

Check out Matt's blog, GreenUpgrader - I particularly enjoyed this recent post about a drain pipe turned hotel...(I would suggest this to Food Neurotic Friend as a potential review location, but I am slightly out of favour as his travel companion of choice.)
UPDATE: if you don't usually read the comments, have a look at the one below about tiffin carriers - they look like a great storage solution.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Unpackaged: continued

With a summer's afternoon comes a new resilience, so My Eco Self sets off shopping again and manages to buy a robust sourdough loaf from the organic deli. However, due to a limited selection of loose ingredients available in the local shops, and slightly put off by the Tupperware experience, I can’t buy the usual staples of my frugal existence; milky mozzarella, palate-cooling bio-yogurt or smoked mackerel pate with bittersweet gooseberries. I’m stuck with the contents of that week’s vegetable box and my well-stocked store cupboards. For the next three days all evening meals are baked sweet potatoes accompanied by an ingeniously crafted side dish of courgettes tossed with a long-forgotten Thai green curry paste and wheat-free corn pasta. My wallet benefits too, despite a lingering odour of spring lamb a la Orla Kiely, both this season’s. Ditching pre-packaged lunchtime sandwiches and a morning bagel served on waxed paper has saved pounds, replaced by an early morning breakfast at home and homemade sandwiches, albeit made with peanut butter with a distinct musty out-of-date aftertaste.


My Eco Self took some old-skool Tupperware on my shopping trip. Both Eco-Chick and Ideal Bite have articles listing non-plastic container alternatives, but not all of these seem practical to carry around when shopping, or to carry to work. My favourite of their suggestions, the Wrap'N'Mat, looks nifty for a packed lunch if you can guarantee no spillage, but may not work for my intended purchases of loose green lentils.

Tupperware's products are all made of plastic types 4,5 and 7, not all of which can be recycled, according to Ideal Bite's recycle by numbers guide. Tupperware's website has a useful Q&A section, which does point out that Tupperware does have a lifetime guarantee and in theory should not need to be recycled.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Unpackaged: the shop

There is an amazing shop in London, handily called Unpackaged, which sells a really extensive range of unpackaged items, even including refillable olive oil and dishwasher powder. Everything is fair trade or organic, not air freighted and they source from co-operatives when they can. They've had a lot of press coverage, and were recently included in a list of the Top 40 Eco heroes in the Observer Food Monthly. Here's a couple of links to some of their press:

The Observer
Time Out

Non-packaged food

In an attempt to repay the environment for a plastic bag habit which is proving difficult to break, My Eco Self decides to have a week buying non-packaged food. I make preparations and take a Tupperware box to the butchers.
“Can I have a Welsh organic lamb chop please, in this box?” I ask.
“Is this the new packed lunch then?” he jokes, trying to find a chop which fits the smallish box.
“It doesn’t quite fit” he adds.
“Can you cut off a bit then?” I insist, after I've handed over money for the whole thing.
I bump into Food Neurotic Friend on the street outside and encourage him to stop for a wheatgrass shot and acai berry smoothie at the health food shop’s cafe nearby.
“What exactly is the point of this exercise?” asks FNF.
“There’s so much excess waste these days,” I say earnestly. “Can I write a piece about it for your newspaper?”
Before FNF has time to remind me that being friends with him doesn’t guarantee any favours, I open my bag to find the lamb is leaking all over an expensive leather handbag.
“Ugh,” I wince, defaulting on my share of the bill to run home and try and deal with the lamb-stained lining.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Colin Firth's eco shop

To clarify, My Eco Self's visit was not to Colin Firth's shop, Eco Age in Chiswick, London. However, he does have an eco shop and there was an interview in the Times about it last year. It was really interesting. If you want to, you can read it here.

Recycled pencils

You can buy pencils made from recycled plastic cups from Hen and Hammock, here.

I like the idea of buying these colourful pencils because a) they're made from a recycled CD case and b) they support The Eden Project.

Celebrity eco design shop

A celebrity My Eco Self admires has just opened an eco design shop.
“Do you want to check it out?” asks Heather, my non-eco-interested friend.
I’m slightly resentful that she is a fair-weather eco-warrior, but am eager for the excursion, despite the trip across town. We strategically time our visit to avoid potential clashes with the celebrity’s schmoozing lunches with his agent, but there’s no sign or evidence of his existence. There’s not even a photo on the wall, or a framed mission statement with his name on it.
“It’s pretty expensive in here,” Heather remarks, picking up a set of recycled pencils made from plastic cups as one of the lowest cost items.
“Let’s go for something to eat instead” I suggest, as an affordable alternative.
I have to steer Heather away from a generic pasta chain in favour of an organic deli round the corner. Heather pulls the pencils out of her bag while she searches for her purse.
“Why did you buy these then?” I ask.
“I wanted to support his enterprise,” she replies.
“I think he’s managing to pay the bills already.”
“The food’s not great in here is it?” says Heather, searching out a non-existent side portion of chips on the menu, amidst an inspired selection of vegetarian rice balls and freshly squeezed juices.
I wish I could reinstate Food Neurotic Friend as the dining companion of choice, but he is increasingly otherwise occupied with his vegan girlfriend.