Plastic-free July

Sometimes I think about all the plastic items I have used and thrown away – how most of them still exist and will still be around for hundreds of years to come. All those toys, take away containers, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, disposable forks, plastic bags. Just my own personal pile of used-and-not-recycled plastic must be a mountain by now! It weighs on my mind.

I’ve been trying to reduce my use of plastic as much as I can. Last year I tried my best to do plastic-free July and realised just how many of my everyday items are plastic, or wrapped in plastic. It’s really hard to eat a variety of food without buying plastics – it pretty much just leaves fresh fruits and veggies or bulk bin items. Since then, I’ve aimed to reduce my incidental plastic use, particularly for single-use items like water bottles, take away containers and cutlery, coffee cups etc. I’ve started carrying around a take away coffee cup and my own utensils. When I know I’m going somewhere that only has take away food options, I try and remember to bring my own container.

I’ve also been considering my packaging more carefully when supermarket shopping. I’ve been using the bulk bins and refill station at New World in Durham Street. I figure a small changes are better than nothing.

This year for plastic-free July I’ve decided to target a specific plastic product category – toiletries. I’ve taken an inventory of all my products that come in plastic and have considered how I can reduce the amount of plastic I consume. Here’s my summary of everything I use and some notes about what I intend to change.

Shampoo and conditioner
The Body Shop shampoo and conditioner bottles I’m using are almost empty, so I’ve purchased shampoo and conditioner bars from Ethique. I’ve talked to a few people who use these products and they rave about them, so I’m dipping my toe by buying small bars of shampoo and conditioner. It’s also a real plus that all their products are vegan, ethically sourced and cruelty-free.

Body wash
I have a full bottle of the current Body Shop wash that I use, so once that’s all gone (and the bottle recycled) I will consider purchasing a wash bar. I’ll see how the shampoo and conditioner goes. I have some concerns about how well they travel, and I shower at the gym 3-4 days a week, so my toiletries need to be portable. Again, Ethique has a really nice range…

Face wash and moisturiser
I’ve got very oily skin (this is the secret of my youthful complexion!), and I’ve finally found a face wash and a moisturiser with SPF that work for me, so I am loathe to change these. These plastic-encased items are in the too-hard basket for now.

I’ve decided this one can go. What is it even for? I’ve never really known, but used it for years. I’ll see what happens when I ditch it.

Body moisturiser
I probably don’t really need this either if I’m honest. I think it’s just a habit. I’m going to give this one a miss too and see what happens. If my skin doesn’t cope, then maybe I will consider the Ethique moisture bar. This one sounds yum.

Toothbrush and toothpaste
As a kid, I remember having tooth powder (thanks hippy mother). I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve never seen it anywhere since. So I googled…Did you know that you can buy tooth tablets? Me either, but you can. I liked the look of the ones that Lush sell, but they come in a plastic bottles! The ones from Eco Easy come in cardboard packaging, but I don’t know if you can buy them locally (trying to avoid the air miles!). I reckon I might find a good solution at Piko for my toothpaste, and I know they sell bamboo toothbrushes too.

The one I use comes in a glass bottle so I am going to stick with it for now. If the Ethique experiment goes well, this will probably be the next target for a bar option.

I’ve really enjoyed doing the research and planning for this activity. I’ve learned a lot about the different plastic-free alternatives out there, including the fact that some of them are cheaper and (I hope!) better than what I currently use.

Some companies clearly put a lot of effort into creating plastic-free packaging. Lush has a whole section on its website dedicated to package-free products. They sell lipstick refills. Who knew!

I was pretty disappointed when I did my inventory and realised that all of my beloved Body Shop products are plastic-wrapped. There is no mention of plastic-free packaging on their website. I was surprise that they weren’t on the cutting edge of this plastic-free movement, so I did a bit of googling. I found out that Body Shop intends to reduce its plastic use 70% by 2020. This Metro article has the details.

And apparently you can make plastic out of pollution nowadays. Two birds, one stone…

Have you thought about what small contribution you might make to save us from a world awash with plastic?

Ethical fashion

I posted a summary of a Tearfund’s third annual ethical fashion report on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and got some interesting responses. Some people were understandably defensive about their favourite F-scoring brands.

It’s hard to be an aware and ethical consumer – there is so much to consider, so much information to take in. You almost need to be a specialist in supply chain management as well as an expert in global politics. And that’s not even considering the environmental aspects of fashion. For each item I purchase, I need to consider the materials it’s made from, where the individual parts have come from, where and how it was assembled, how it got here. It’s impossibly overwhelming!

When I first started teaching global sociology in the early 00s, it seemed as simple as avoiding products from China and buying New Zealand made. Now I know it’s not as simple as this – it is possible to buy ethically-made products from China (setting aside the issue of purchasing items that have come from an undemocratic nation), and not all New Zealand brands are ethical in their practices.

Recently, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume LESS fashion. Every time I look at an item of clothing I think I need, I take the time to consider this more carefully – do I already have one? Can I get by without it? Is it replacing something that is perfectly fine? My main strategy is to wait – I usually find that after 2-3 weeks of considering a purchase, I decide I don’t need it after all. Another strategy is to avoid poorly/cheaply made items in favour of buying better quality stuff that will last longer. This works best in conjunction with the first strategy … no point in buying things that will last years and then replacing them anyway next season!

Here’s the thing … if you know me, you know I like buying stuff – I love gadgets! And shoes! And nice knitwear! Let’s not pretend that I don’t love to buy new season Lululemon every year (luckily they score an overall A- from Tearfund). I’m not even close to being a perfect, ethical consumer. But I like to think that I can try to be better, so that the people who make my Lulu yoga tights get to have a better life.

I don’t want to give up and I think that small things I can do will make a difference, so here’s what I am committing to:
* Consuming less
* Buying better quality items so they last longer
* Worrying less about fashion and more about what will keep me warm / cool / dry / comfortable
* Keeping what I have for longer
* Being aware of ethical clothing producers, and choosing them ahead of the easy / cheaper options
* Avoiding single-use plastics
* Recycling as much as I can
* Not consuming anything from the dairy or beef industry

Do you think it’s enough for each of us to pick a few things that they can do differently and stick with that? Or are we just wasting our time?

A Splendid Torch

Sometimes when I’m running around like a mad thing trying to figure out how I can fit in all the meetings and catch ups with people, I pause and wonder what the heck I’m doing. I spend hours each week doing volunteer work for various organisations. Why?

This is why…

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw – A Splendid Torch

Do you think this desire to be useful in service is something that is becoming less valued nowadays?


I’ve never really been interested in clothes or fashion. I tend to go with the flow – I make do with what’s in the shops but usually select the current season’s version of the same stuff I always wear. Over time I’ve developed a better sense of what’s going to work for me and what I am comfortable in. Like most women, I have listened to various “fashion gurus” (remember Trinny and Susannah?!) over the years who scold me for wearing this or not wearing that. I have fought against my own preferences in order to follow along and fit in. The older I get, the less I care about following fashion advice.

Here are some things I’ve recently decided about my own likes and dislikes. My goal for this year (and beyond!) is to follow these and not listen to all the noise about what’s right and wrong:

  • I like dark colours – mostly black. It’s just easier and I’m lazy. It doesn’t mean I’m boring.
  • I prefer to wear loose-fitting clothing – I hate the feel of tight waists and restrictive arms and legs.
  • I prefer long pants / skirts / dresses – I like having my knees covered up. Skirts and dresses are okay as long as they come to mid-calf, or I wear tights underneath. Wearing a dress with pants can be a thing if I want it to be.
  • I only ever want to wear comfy shoes. High heels are awful and I’m done with them. I like lace-ups.
  • I like wearing jackets. I’m usually cold when other people are warm, so these help me stave off the cold.
  • I like wearing scarves – same reason as above. They have the added bonus of bringing in some colour when I’m in the mood for that.
  • I’ve recently decided I like wearing shirts – I like the androgyny of lace-up shoes / pants / shirt / jacket. The only problem I find is that most shirts are made for flat-chested, flat bellied women. Wear are the shirts made for curves? I’m on the look out.
  • I don’t care about labels, but I do want to shop ethically. I think it’s stupid that a shirt in a fashion shop costs five times something I can get in a department store. I do care about buying stuff that’s going to last a while, and wasn’t made with sweatshop labour. I like buying New Zealand made clothing. I’d like to have the crafty-confidence to make more of my own clothing.

What are your fashion struggles?

Crowd-sourced decision-making

We’ve been thinking for a while about getting a coffee machine for home. We’ve been using a French press for years.

French press
French press

Lately I’ve been hearing about this amazing new device called a Nespresso. They seem to be everywhere, and people who have one rave about it.


We saw lots of them when we were travelling last year, and we talked about getting one. I liked the idea of homemade espresso with very little mess / fuss. I wasn’t 100% convinced though – they seem to produce a lot of waste in the form of little aluminium pods. And you can’t choose your own beans. Then I tried a cup at a client’s office the other day, and it was pretty nice coffee. I asked around and the evangelists had me sold. I was ready to go out and buy one.

But before I did (still nagging doubts about those pods), I asked Facebook to tell me what they thought.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.42.56 AM

A very interesting debate ensued. On the one hand, people said:

I’ve had one for 2 years, Nespresso pods are good but now I use supermarket ones for half the price I love it, totally different taste to plunger, still take a bit to get the quantities right, milk, water, pod strength but you can get a good proper coffee machine taste, never the best but good, as for waste – the plastic I use in 2 weeks would be less than one plastic meat tray, and the aluminium ones are recyclable.

Yes for sure – and I said no to a coffee machine for years. Had one for a year now and wouldn’t go back.

 It’s great. Easy to use, great selection of tastes, and the milk thingy always makes your coffee look cool.

George Clooney

They give you a card at the shop with a chip in it and when you go to the shop you are auto logged and they greet you…by name. So register your name as Mr Clooney….for shits and gigs

But George Clooney…

We’ve had one for about 4 years and couldn’t live without it. I personally think the coffee tastes great but our machine (Maestria) does allow for you to adjust more than the basic machine and we do run more water through each capsule to extract more coffee. The pods are recyclable in Chch in the standard recycling but if you want to make sure you can now drop them off at the Nespresso Boutique in Ballantynes at the proper recycle station. Supposedly they are infinitely recyclable. We recently tried another Eco-brand of some sort but it didn’t cut the mustard flavour wise.

Love ours! Our one you steam your own milk too, which gives you part of that satisfaction of putting a little effort into your coffee, but sans mess!

It was pretty convincing stuff. No mess, and George Clooney!


But then…other people gave me pause for thought…

A very clever marketing campaign backed up by great service to make you feel part of an exclusive club, while you drink weak, overpriced coffee and damage the environment, despite the well-intentioned recycling programme.

Capsules are expensive and only available in their “boutiques” (far and few between) and online. The only good, strong Nespresso I’ve had was when I used 2 pods in one cup – making it even more expensive. Not to mention that Nespresso is from Nestle – one of more evil multi-national corporations which should be boycotted (a company with a CEO who doesn’t believe that water is a basic human right, a company that used child labour in Africa on cocoa plantations until 2005 and of course aggressively pushed formula in Africa for years resulting in an unnecessarily high infant mortality rate.)

Back to coffee, we have had a Breville Fresca for the past 4 years, which has a built-in grinder. We love it. I don’t buy takeaway coffee anymore, ever. I also like that I can buy whichever beans I choose – fair trade, organic etc.

Hmmm, I have purposefully boycotted Nestle all of my adult life…


Drinking coffee is not just about ‘getting your fix asap’. If you buy a proper espresso machine you’ll experience the joy of making a good coffee yourself. You can learn, experiment, refine your skills and it only takes a little bit longer. You can make the coffee just the way you like it best… not how Mr. Nespresso thinks you should drink your coffee.

Plus if you multi task, you can make a coffee while having a meaningful conversation with somebody who really knows your name and who is really interested in you and not just in your wallet. You don’t have to suffer through all the fake marketing bullshit so you feel ‘special’… together with the millions of other Nespresso drinkers all over the world.

And as a bonus your soul doesn’t die a little every time you drink a ‘soy vanilla caramel late with rose sprinkles on top’ because you’re not putting another ‘pod’ in the ground. That alone has got to be worth something.

So yeah… do you follow the crowd… or do you drink coffee?

Yeah, family coffee-making and meaningful conversations, I like!


Espresso machine is a much better option in my opinion. Much more control, can support local roasters.

Local roasters!


These were also convincing arguments. The two sides of the debate perfectly summarise my take on this – I like the idea of the easiness and no-mess-ness of the pods, but like the idea of making my own coffee using non-evil corporation products.

Reviewing the arguments carefully, I noted that the ‘for’ arguments all focus on the convenience of the pods, and the ‘against’ on the value of brewing your own coffee using beans of your choosing.

So I started my research again, this time including espresso machines in the mix. I had thought (wrongly) that these machines would be out of our price range (i.e. several thousand dollars). What my research showed was that there are lots of semi- and fully-automatic coffee machines in the $500-$1000 range – about the same as the Nespresso.

I showed my research to Stephen and we narrowed the options – don’t want a milk container attached, do want to be able to make steamed milk, don’t want a portafilter, do want to be able to use beans or ground coffee, do want a decent sized water container.

And so we found this little beauty.

Delonghi Magnifica S ECAM 22.110.SB

And it is magnifica! It is exactly what we we wanted. It makes a great brew using any beans we choose, we can select different strengths, make two coffees at once, make short or long blacks, and steam milk, and it is no-mess. And for $1000 it includes a four-year service warranty.

I’ve been slightly over-caffeinated since we got it…

Getting there

All year, I’ve been working hard out to increase my level of activity and reduce my waistline. I blogged about it in June – HERE.

As I said in June, my weight slowly crept up and my fitness declined since I started doing roller derby. So the start of this year I hit the gym hard and discovered the joys (and pain) of RPM.

Since then (I waited for the weather to warm up!) I’ve thrown running back into the mix too. I’ve loved running ever since I first started, now over 10 years ago. No derby, plus good stretching, massage, and yoga has helped my back issues to the point that I’ve been able to run again in the last three months, and I am so happy! I’m keeping it low-key at the moment, 30 mins a couple of times a week. It’s so good to be back into it though.

So I typically do between 30-120 minutes of exercise six days a week, I eat (fairly) well, and in the past six months my weight-loss has slowed – I’ve now lost 14 kilograms since December 2014 (it was 10kgs in June).

Here’s the funny thing. My weight-loss seems to have stopped at exactly the same point it did last time I lost weight 10 or so years ago. Like, exactly the same number. And I’ve been the same weight (give or take a few 100 grams here and there) for the past three months.

It’s a bit frustrating, because having been 82 kilograms for so many years, I like the idea of being 70-something. But my body has other ideas! I know the numbers don’t really matter, but it’s something I’ve focussed on because it’s a measurable goal that I can reach for. But getting to a 70-something goal would mean cutting out (yet more) foods from my diet. I’m reluctant to do that.

The answer is acceptance. Getting there. Grrr.

Now that I’m home…

I’ve spent the last 10 days recovering from the worst jet lag I’ve ever had. I am not sure why, but it’s taken me so long to start to feel normal again. Yesterday was the first day that I didn’t feel sick and tired all afternoon. Still, a bit of jet lag is soooo worth it for the amazing trip we had.

Just for my own benefit, I thought I would summarise how much money we spent. Can you believe that we came home with money in the bank?! We didn’t spend our whole budget ($20,000). It breaks down like this:

Flights: $4,400 (2 x $2,200)

Eurail pass: $1,250 (2 x 1st class, 4 countries, 5 days)

Rental car: $500 (Ford Focus)

Rental car breakdown insurance: $80

Hotels: $4,500 ($220 average per night)

Spending: $6500 ($310 average per day, includes food, shopping, etc.)

TOTAL: $17,230

Which is not bad considering how expensive most of Europe is and how bad the exchange rate was when we went.

I’m not sure if it saved us much money or not, but we used exclusively for all our hotel bookings. We get every 10th night free with them, so I think it was a pretty good deal. It meant that we didn’t have to pre-plan anything – just look at what was available at the time we wanted and select the best for our budget. We got some great accommodation that way.

And the backpack certainly helped in terms of not buying heaps of junk – I didn’t want to carry more weight than I needed to!

Day 24: Frankfurt – Singapore

We had another lazy morning – didn’t leave for the day until about 12pm. We jumped on a train out to the airport to drop our bags, and then headed off for Mainz. This town is the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg – a personal hero of mine, so I was super-stoked to be able to see this place!

In 1439, Gutenberg revolutionised the world of printing by inventing moveable type – the process of printing using little letters that you can put together in any combination (rather than woodcut printing). This was the beginning of mass communication and the shift of power away from the Church and to the people – once they could read, they could spread their ideas more quickly. Mass printing had a huge impact on European society, and was a direct contributor to the Industrial Revolution.

The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz has a perfectly preserved set of Gutenberg bibles (two volume set). I could have stared at them all day. I was in printing-nerd heaven. No photos allowed though.

We stopped for some lunch, then had a general wander around the old town – I’m guessing mostly reconstructed since 80% of the city was levelled in the war, most of it in one attack in February 1945. Hard to imagine how scary that would be.

We walked from the city centre to the Roman ruins at the towns’ edge. Mainz is also known for being the northern-most outpost of the Roman Empire – and there are plenty of Roman ruins scattered around the place, including at the train station. We had a bit of a look and then jumped on a train to the airport to begin the long wait.

And now it’s almost time to go to the boarding gate. I’ve enjoyed our trip immensely, but I am looking forward to being home. Although not so much the process of going home…

Day 23: Frankfurt

We started the day with a stroll along the river – there is a lovely river walk (maybe one day Christchurch will have one!) from the train station into town.

The view of the city on our amble along the river
The view of the city on our amble along the river

We started at the other end of town today – following a walking tour from our app (called izi – it’s very good). We walked along Museum row, but didn’t visit any of them. At some point, museums are just too much, and it was a nice day for wandering. Along the river walk was an installation on all the trees – a commemoration of a local concentration camp where 1600 people died. I wonder if it’s hard for Germans to be constantly reminded of this past.

A constant reminder of the past
A constant reminder of the past

We walked and walked, and finished up in the shopping district. We stopped for some lunch at the Stock Exchange building. It would seem that Friday is market day in Frankfurt – everyone was out enjoying sausages, cider and wine from the local stalls.

Man enjoys sausage and cider
Man enjoys sausage and cider

We did a bit of shopping ourselves, went and played with the new iPhones for a bit, then called it a day around 4pm – six hours of walking was enough.

A 360 view of the main shopping area, with the old city guardhouse on the left
A 360 view of the main shopping area, with the old city guardhouse on the left

We’ve had a good mix of busy and relaxing time on this trip. Our last holiday was much busier, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to kick back a bit more. It seems a bit strange to lounge around in our hotel room for a whole afternoon or evening when there is city to explore, but I’m also aware that this is a holiday and I need to take some time to relax. It’s been great.

Last day tomorrow! Our flight doesn’t leave until 10pm, so we plan to drop our bags at the airport and visit an outlying town – Mainz – for a few hours before we leave.

Day 22: Berlin – Frankfurt

Our train left at the very leisurely time of 12.30pm today, so we heaps of time for sleeping in and lounging around. We got to the train station and found out train easily, as usual. The more trains we’ve taken, the easier it become to figure out how it works – even when we are in a new country. It’s been completely smooth sailing sorting out the trains – high five us!

The first class carriage was very comfy, with in-seat waiter service. Very nice! The trip from Berlin to Frankfurt was about 5 hours, so plenty of time to consume some more Heroes as I watched the countryside whizz by at approximately 230km/h. The trains in Germany are a bit faster than Italy, but slower than the French TGVs.

I was sad to say goodbye to Berlin, I really enjoyed being there. I will definitely go back again. In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed Germany the best out of Europe. It has surprised me that I’ve found Germans the most helpful and friendly – more so than the French, Swiss or Italians. It probably helps that everyone speaks impeccable English in Germany.

I was completely charmed by Berlin. It is such a strange place – so much history packed into one place, so much pain and suffering and grief and loss, and yet it’s still there, thriving away. We had a great time walking all over the place looking at buildings. There are so few old buildings, and lots of construction going on. So different to every other European city I’ve been to – this place was completely decimated by English bombing. Looking around, I thought that this is what Christchurch will look like in 60 years – a mish-mash of buildings of different styles, but very few that are more than half a century old, and most of the ones that are older are partly reconstructed. So fascinating.

Anyway, on to Frankfurt. It has a reputation for being a modern, wealthy city- well-deserved. I love the mix of giant skyscrapers and old-style stone buildings here. They seem to sit together comfortably.

A mix of old and new
A mix of old and new

It’s much smaller than Berlin, so very walkable. We dropped our bags at the hotel (which is just across from the train station) and walked into town for a look. It was nice just to wander and look. Of course we found an Apple Store first up, and then a Haagen Dazs. After some ice cream, we decided to save the best stuff for tomorrow, and headed home to bed once it got dark.

Funky hotel - our floor is 1960s themed
Funky hotel – our floor is 1960s themed