How Refusing Plastic on Tuesday Helps Save our Planet

I’m thrilled that we have Annemieke of Plastic Free Tuesday back for another guest blog! Today she shares the story of why she started her plastic-free Tuesday habit, how it helps the environment, and tips for for joining the Plastic Free Tuesday movement.


A few years ago I stumbled upon a TED video in which plastic-free pioneer Beth Terry tells about her plastic-free life. I was intrigued. During the years that followed I increasingly often read and heard about how plastic kills animals and ruins the planet. After seeing yet another photo series of bird stomachs filled with plastic, I decided to do something about it. Because I strongly believe that “we should be the change you want to see in the world,” my goal was to reduce my own plastic consumption and waste. Like Beth Terry, I decided to document my journey towards less plastic. So, in April 2013 I started writing on my Dutch weblog Plasticminimalism.

Tiny steps towards a smaller plastic footprint

Because at that time I had no idea how much plastic I consumed, I began (again inspired by Beth Terry) with weekly tallies of the plastic our two persons household threw away. I put any plastic waste in a separate garbage bag. Every week I took the big black garbage bag with plastic waste, turned it upside down and divided it into categories such as veggies, legumes, and nuts. I would then take pictures of each category, identify key problem areas, and decide which product or category to tackle in the week ahead.

During the week I would try find plastic-free alternatives for each and every product or product group. For example, my goals after the first tally included using reusable bags for all my veggies and fruits as well as buying bananas at the organic supermarket rather than at the mainstream grocery store. Over the course of ten months all these small steps contributed to a great reduction of our plastic footprint. I believe that key to my success was that I only took a little step at a time. Only when I felt that I had created a new habit, I would plan the next step.

Plastic-Free Tuesday = one day no plastic consumption, no plastic waste

Over the course of ten months all these small steps contributed to a great reduction of our plastic footprint. We barely bought or threw away any plastic. Nonetheless, news about plastic pollution kept appearing on television and in the newspapers. I started wondering how I could get more people aware of the problem of plastic pollution.

Suddenly, the concept of Plastic-Free Tuesday came to my mind. Inspired by the success of Meatless Monday, I thought this would be an easy way for people to test what it is like to skip plastic. I discussed the idea with some close friends and then launched the concept on my Dutch blog. Soon my close friend Marlies joined, and in the following months, Gerda and others got on board too.

On Plastic-Free Tuesday we skip plastic to reduce our plastic footprint. That means we don’t buy anything that is made of plastic or contains plastic. We also don’t use anything made of plastic that we have to throw away after using it. So no bananas wrapped in plastic, no plastic bags, no take-away coffee in plastic cups, and so on.

Tips for your first Plastic-Free Tuesday

Before you go for a Tuesday without buying or throwing away any plastic, I would highly recommend to first document the plastic you use throughout a Tuesday. Collect all the plastic you buy or throw away during the day and take pictures of it. If you have a camera on your telephone you could easily take pictures throughout the day, for example of that plastic wrapping around the sandwich you bought for lunch (and the plastic bag you got with it!). You will be surprised how much plastic waste you create. This will definitely be an eye-opener. It will also help you plan your first Plastic-Free Tuesday. Here are five tips to get you started.

Make sure to never leave the house without extra bag(s). I have a couple of shopping bags hanging next to the door. This works fine for me. I always carry a few wherever I go. Other people put an extra bag in their purse, backpack, or in the car.

Get some reusable bags for veggies and fruit. Countless small plastic bags are used for fresh produce. Put your items in your own bags. Stick the price tag on the bag. If you buy only one or two items, simply put the price tag straight on the products. No bags needed! My favorite are Re-Sacks, but you can also try find a local alternative or make your own.

Think beyond the regular grocery stores. Those are filled with plastic. Once you pay attention, you will be amazed by the amounts of plastic in your supermarket. For more plastic-free options, check out local markets and specialized stores such as tea shops and bakeries.

#BringYourOwn bottle, jar, or mug for water, coffee, and tea. For health and environmental reasons, choose one made of glass or stainless steel. A budget option is to reuse a glass bottle you got at the grocery store (for example those for fresh juice or pasta sauce). Living plastic-free doesn’t have to be expensive.

Be creative. Forgot your bag? No problem. Ask for or look for an empty cardboard box to put your products in. Or just simply carry the items in your hands. If you do shopping by car, put the items back in the shopping cart and unload it straight into your car.

Yes, you can make a difference!

While some argue that on a global scale, this won’t make any difference, I strongly disagree. First of all, this argument does not make sense if you reflect on the core of our plastic problem. Where does the plastic come from? How come birds are building nests made of plastic? How did the plastic get into the living environment of the bird in the first place?

Exactly. It’s because you and me are supporting the use of unnecessary plastic in our society by constantly accepting and buying it and then disposing of it. If you and me would not buy any plastic, there would not be any (or at least a lot less) plastic.

Secondly, you are not alone! Over the course of the past year or so, people around me noticed my plastic behavior and started to change their behavior too. Amongst the first to do so were my husband, family, and friends. And in turn, they too inspire others to change habits and are creating awareness about the plastic problem.

So please join us next Plastic-Free Tuesday! Living with less plastic isn’t as daunting as it may sound. Take small steps at a time. For example, start #BringYourOwnBag on your first Plastic-Free Tuesday. Once you’re used to doing that, get yourself a reusable water bottle. And so on.

Small steps matter. Together we can make a difference. Please share your plastic-free story on social media using #PlasticFreeTuesday. For more tips and inspiration, visit our website, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter or Instagram and join the conversation!

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One Old Bed Sheet = Less Plastic Packaging

If you have an old sheet and a pair of scissors, you’ve got the tools you need to reduce the amount of plastic packaging you use in your kitchen and bathroom!

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This was an old bed sheet. It was a well-loved sheet, passed on to me by my first roommate in Cairo 15 years ago. She had inherited it from a friend who had left Egypt the year before. It was a lovely sheet – so soft and comfortable – and we enjoyed it as a bed sheet for years. Eventually it ripped, but I still refused to throw it out. I used it as a dust cover on the many storage boxes in my house (I have no cupboards to speak of). And then I read a suggestion in Beth Terry’s book How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. She recommends cutting up old sheets to use as paper towels in the kitchen. This, of course, eliminates the need to purchase paper towels packaged in plastic. So I grabbed my scissors and cut this old sheet into squares – some large, some small. You may be amazed at the variety of uses you can get out of one old sheet. Here’s how we use them in our house:

    • As a replacement for facial tissue, I use the small squares as handkerchiefs.

    • As a replacement for cotton swabs, I use the sheet to clean out my ears.

    • As a replacement for paper kitchen towels, I use the larger squares to:

      • drain oil from fried food

      • dry homemade pasta on

      • dry washed salad greens

      • wipe up spills

    • As a replacement for plastic wrap, I dampen the cloth squares and use them to wrap dough in as it rests.

One old bet sheet has gone a long way in my house! And has seriously reduced the amount of plastic I use. I no longer buy kitchen towels (in plastic packaging) or plastic wrap.

There are many other creative and practical ways to reuse and repurpose old sheets – from making yarn to dresses to rugs. This list of 20 Ways to Reuse Old Bed Sheets is a good place to start if you’re looking for ideas.

Have you repurposed old bed sheets? Do you have any tips to share? What other uses are there around the house for cut-up old bed sheets?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

* This post was originally published here on Plastic Free Tuesday. *

Recycling: What It Is and What It Isn’t

The main focus of my blog is sharing ways we can all REFUSE disposable plastic, but I also encourage us all to RECYCLE. Not because it is the answer to our waste problems, but because I know that none of us lives a 100% waste-free life and it’s important to keep waste that can be used again out of the landfill.

Hemeya, the local NGO currently tasked with Dahab’s rubbish collection, sorts the metal, cardboard, glass, and plastic waste and sells it on to buyers for “recycling”. (Read more about Hemeya here.)

But what does it mean to recycle?

First, let’s talk about what it’s not. If you take an empty water bottle and make a planter or a candle holder, that’s not recycling. That’s a great way to REUSE or REPURPOSE the bottle, but it’s not recycling. To reuse something means to use it again after it has been used. You might reuse an item for the same purpose, like reusing an empty jam jar to store your own homemade treats. Or like the returnable Stella (the local beer) bottles that are collected, cleaned, and reused again and again. You might also think of a new use for an old item, like making a bucket from an old car tire. (You can buy these at shops in Asalah!)

A bucket made from an old tire.

A bucket made from an old tire.

Reusing or repurposing items is an excellent way to keep useful waste from ending up in the landfill. It helps save time, money, and energy.

Technically, if a product is recycled, it is broken down into raw materials and be made into the same product. Used printer paper would be made into new printer paper. Discarded plastic water bottles would be made into new water bottles. But these processes are usually difficult and/or expensive, especially when it comes to plastic. So most of the “recycling” that is happening actually involves producing different material, not the same. For example, water bottles are “recycled” and made into plastic egg cartons, like the one pictured below.

used to be a water bottle

An egg carton made from plastic bottles (in America)

Glass and aluminium are more often truly recycled into new glass and aluminium products but NOT plastic. Plastic is usually downcycled, or made into new material or products of lesser quality or usefulness. Over time, downcycling reduces the quality of a material. Plastic water bottles, when “recycled” are often mixed with other plastics to make a new lower-quality hybrid. This new material can then be molded into something like a park bench, carpet, or speed bump. Eventually, plastics that are downcycled reach a point when they cannot be used anymore and they end up as trash in a landfill.

Graphic via Activist Abby https://www.facebook.com/ActivistAbby

Graphic via Activist Abby
https://www.facebook.com/ActivistAbby

When waste material is truly recycled, that is – made into the same product, there are many environmental benefits. It prevents waste of useful materials. It reduces the consumption of new raw materials. It reduces energy use. It can reduce air and water pollution associated with traditional waste disposal. But since plastics are downcycled, the benefits are much less. New plastic water bottles are continually being produced, using fresh raw materials, using much more energy.

We cannot solve the problem of plastic pollution by continuing to make new plastic products that cannot be recycled because there will still be a constant flow of new, or virgin, plastic – if there is demand. Our first priority, then, needs to be to REFUSE disposable plastic products when we can, REDUCE the amount of products we need, and REUSE them when we are able. The last resort before the landfill is to RECYCLE.

Plastic shopping bags are not “recycled” here in Dahab so if you do only one thing to reduce your plastic footprint, let it be to bring your own reusable bag to the supermarket and green grocer.

In my next post, I’ll talk about upcycling and crafting with reusables. Stay tuned!

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Perfect for Christmas: Swedish Sourdough Bread

Have you made your sourdough starter yet? Annemieke, from Plastic-Free Tuesday, joins us again with more sourdough recipes. This time for Swedish bread. A perfect holiday treat!


I love sourdough products! Sourdough has such a rich flavor. Last month I shared with you a recipe for delicious pancakes (highly recommended!). This time I want to introduce you to one of my favorite sourdough breads. The recipe comes from a Swedish cookbook. Ingredients include walnuts and apple, which makes it a perfect bread for Christmas breakfast/brunch or as a starter/side dish for Christmas dinner.

Ingredients for two loafs of bread:

  • 150 milliliter (rye) sourdough starter – click here to learn make your own
  • 1100 milliliter whole-wheat flour
  • at least 200 milliliter lukewarm water (23-26 degrees Celsius)
  • 150 milliliter pearl barley (or barley)
  • 100 milliliter raisins
  • 75 milliliter coarsely chopped walnuts

  • 50 milliliter deciliter wheat bran
  • another 375 milliliter water
  • 1 apple
  • 0.5 tablespoon salt

For plastic-free wheat bran (rough or fine and enriched), raisins, barley, and walnuts you can buy them from the bulk bags, for example at 1,000 Items, using your own reusable bag or container. You can purchase whole wheat flour in paper sacks from Chef’s.

Baking the bread in three stages (over 24+ hours)

Step 1

In the morning right after getting up or in the evening before going to bed, pour the rye sourdough starter in a large bowl. Add the whole-wheat flour and the lukewarm water. Knead the dough for about five minutes. I use a Bosch MUM kitchen machine for this. Of course you can also use your hands. Make sure to spread some flour over your hands and the dough so that the dough is less sticky. In the end, the dough should form a nice round ball that does not stick to your hands. If the dough keeps falling apart, add some extra water (lukewarm) until the dough sticks together and forms a ball.

Take the dough out of the bowl. Spread some flour at the bottom of the bowl. This helps prevent the dough from sticking to the bowl. Put the dough back in the bowl. Put a clean kitchen towel over the bowl and let the dough rest for 24 hours, at room temperature.

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Step 2, twelve hours after kneading the dough

Take another bowl or pot. Put the pearl barley, raisins, walnuts, and wheat bran in it. Boil 375 milliliter water and pour this in the bowl. Blend together using a big spoon. Let rest for 12 hours.

Step 3, 24 hours after kneading the dough

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Turn on the oven (250 degrees Celsius). Add the mix of pearl barley, raisins, walnuts, and wheat bran to the dough.

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Rasp or grate (coarsely) a washed apple (don’t peel the apple!). Add it to the dough. Add also half a tablespoon of salt.

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Knead the dough again. Use a kitchen machine if you have one or if you can borrow one. Use your hands if you don’t have a kitchen machine. It takes a little longer, but it is doable and a nice workout. Be sure to pour some flour over your hands and a little bit on the dough so that it does not stick to your hands.

Knead until the dough is well mixed. This time the final result is not a nice round ball (as after step 1), but a sticky mess. Put parchment paper in two bread loaf pans. Transfer the dough from the bowl to the two pans. Place the pans in the oven (lower part of the oven). Decrease the temperature to 200 degrees Celsius.

Take the bread out of the oven after 50 minutes. Let cool down a little while and then take the bread out of the pans. Carefully remove the parchment paper. Wrap the bread in a clean kitchen towel.

The shelf life of sourdough bread is longer than regular bread. As opposed to regular bread, sourdough bread matures and becomes tastier over time.

Being Dutch, I enjoy eating this bread with peanut butter or apple syrup. But I imagine it tastes excellent with goat cheese or something else too.

Merry Christmas and bon appétit!

Plastic-free, healthy, and tasty: Home-made sourdough pancakes

Annemieke of Plastic Free Tuesday is back! This time she shares with us a recipe for sourdough pancakes.


Eating without buying or throwing away any plastic is easy and fun! Just Do-It-Yourself! #DIY! Home-made food is usually also healthier and more delicious than eating out or taking away. And it saves money.

Last month I shared with you how to make your own plastic-free sourdough starter. It takes about a week before the starter is alive and kicking. Your starter is ready to be used for baking if it is bubbling vigorously. Sometimes, my starter is so alive that it escapes the jar!

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Initially, I started to experiment with sourdough when I was looking for a plastic-free alternative to baking powder. The baking powder I used for my carrot cake muffins came in plastic and I wanted to get rid of it. On the internet I read that baking powder can be replaced with sourdough in combination with baking soda. In many parts of the world, the latter comes in cardboard boxes.

To keep the sourdough starter alive, I stir daily with a clean, wooden spoon. Every second day, I add new flour and some water (23-26 degrees Celsius/73.4-78.8 F) in a 1:1 ratio. Every week, I feed my starter a big meal. I empty almost the entire jar. I leave only about 1 deciliter in the jar. I then add about three times as much flour and lukewarm water (again, in a 1:1 ratio) and stir. This kind of big meals makes that the pH drops. This makes it easier for the bacteria to multiply.

It would be a waste to throw away the sourdough that I take out of the jar. So instead, I follow the instructions of Sandor Katz to use this sourdough to bake pancakes. It’s easy and super delicious. Just note that because this recipe involves fermentation, it is a two-step process. In the morning (or evening) you prepare the dough, in the evening (or next morning) you can eat the pancakes.

Ingredients

3 deciliter sourdough starter

4 deciliter flour (I use whole-wheat flour)

4 deciliter water (23-26 degrees Celsius or 73.4-78.8 F)

1 onion

1 clove of garlic

1 bell pepper (I prefer a green one)

coconut oil, butter or any other kind of oil

2 eggs

salt

1 tablespoon peanut butter

For plastic-free flour in Dahab, you can buy your flour from the bulk bags, for example at 1,000 Items, using your own reusable bag or container. The shop carries all purpose and semolina flour. You can also purchase whole wheat flour in paper sacks from Chef’s. Remember to bring your own bag or container and you can buy the onion, garlic, bell pepper, butter, and eggs without plastic packaging. Look for local peanut butter brand AHEF which comes in a glass jar.

Step 1.

In the morning (before you go to work) or in the evening (before you go to bed), transfer 3 deciliter sourdough starter from the jar in a bowl (preferably plastic-free) or pot. Add 4 deciliter of flour. Add the lukewarm (23-26 degrees Celsius) water. Blend everything until the dough is smooth. Put a clean kitchen towel on top and leave it to rest for at least a few hours so that it can ferment. After about 10-12 hours, there will be bubbles in the dough.

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Step 2

Usually I blend the sourdough starter, flour, and water in the morning and leave it to ferment the whole day until I come back from work in the evening. Once the dough is ready for baking, chop the onion and mince (or chop) the garlic. Cut the bell pepper into small pieces.

Pour some oil in a frying pan. Fry the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. In the meanwhile, add the 2 eggs, some salt, and the tablespoon peanut butter to the dough. Blend until smooth. Add the fried veggies too and blend again.

Heat some oil in the frying pan. Pour some dough into the frying pan. I prefer small and relatively thin pancakes (because they turn out nicest this way), so I do not fill the entire pan. I only use a little bit of dough for each pancake. Make sure you move the frying pan around so that the dough is spread out. You don’t want thick pancakes, because that means risking that the outside is done but the inside is not.

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Wait until the upper side has turned dry. Then, carefully flip the pancake. Once both sides are golden brown, the pancake is ready.

This recipe will make about 10 pancakes.

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The pancakes are still very delicious the next day if kept refrigerated. They are delicious served with peanut butter, vegetable based spread, and/or avocado.

This is a recipe based on the instructions of Sandor Katz in his book “The Art of Fermentation” (page 236).

Bon appetite!

Popcorn: A Perfect (almost) Plastic-free Snack

We all have our own preferences when it comes to the snacks we love. Popcorn is one of my favorites, satisfying my craving for salty crunchiness. It’s also a great alternative to all the snacks available on the market. You know, all those snacks packaged in plastic – potato chips, nuts, energy bars, cookies, and cakes. Besides the issue of the plastic packaging, the nutritional value of these “foods” is also questionable. I’m not a big fan of snacks on most days, so it is easy for me to REFUSE these packaged snacks. When I do feel the need for a snack, one of the foods I reach for is popcorn.

If you bring your own bag, you can purchase popcorn completely plastic-free from the bulk bags at 1,000 Items (Alf Sunf) in Assalah Square. This past weekend, I paid LE 10 for a kilo of popcorn. Make sure you buy from the bag that says “POPCORN” because corn feed for chickens is also available.

popcorn in bulk

Bring your own bag or reuse a plastic one you already have.

To pop the popcorn on my stove, I cover the bottom of a pan with about a tablespoon of cold vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter). I then pour the kernels in, just enough to make one layer.

The oil, unfortunately, comes in a plastic bottle so when I purchase oil I always buy the largest bottle possible. (Crystal Sunflower Oil, 3 Liters) This at least reduces the amount of plastic that will need to be recycled. 

oil

Plastic-Saving Tip: Buy the largest bottle available.

The ghee comes in a glass jar that can be reused or recycled, but it does have a small amount of plastic on the lid. I prefer the ghee not only because it’s less plastic, but it’s tastier too!

ghee

Less plastic and better tasting – ghee

I cover the pan and put in on medium heat. As the oil heats, I shake the pan gently every once in awhile to make sure all kernels are covered evenly in oil. I continue to do this as the kernels pop. Once the popping has stopped, I remove the pan from the stove and pour the popcorn into a large bowl, sprinkle some salt on top, and start munching. I don’t measure anything so if you need more precise instructions, read these.

popped

What is your favorite snack food? Does it come packaged in plastic? Do you make it yourself? Do you have any recipes to share?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

The Pearl of Dahab Roastery – for Plastic-Free Nuts, Spices, and More!

The Pearl of Dahab Roastery, located directly next to Ralph’s German Bakery in Asalah Square, is THE place to purchase plastic-free nuts and spices – as long as you remember to BYOB, or Bring Your Own Bag!

pearl of dahab

Actually, it doesn’t have to be a bag. It can be any reusable container you have on hand. We bring our own reusable plastic containers or repurposed empty tea tins.

Old tea tins being reused to purchase and store spices.

Old tea tins being reused to purchase and store spices.

This shop offers a range of dried goods in bulk:

  • NUTS – Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and a variety of peanuts including my favorites: peanuts covered in chocolate or honey and sesame.
  • SEEDS – Sesame and all the types of “lib” you could want, which you can also purchase in the recycled paper cones typically used to package snack seeds in Egypt.
  • SPICES – The dried and powered ginger and cinnamon are my favorites, but you can also get cumin, coriander, cardamon, nutmeg, sage, bay leaf, and more.
  • CANDY – I’ve actually never purchased candy, but the shop does carry jelly beans and other chewy candies.
Walnuts purchased in our own container.

Walnuts purchased in our own container.

Like all of the shops we use for our plastic-free shopping, it takes the shopkeepers a bit of time to get used to our request to use our own bags or containers. Unlike the street food shops where business is brisk, at the roastery you’ll have plenty of time to make your request and wait for your order. There’s no pushing or yelling here!