Ah, summer! I love spending as much time outdoors as possible this time of year. Doing so requires a little thinking ahead so I don’t compromise on my sustainable living ethos, and I can enjoy good weather and good company without impacting negatively on the environment. Something I always bring with me when I’m out of the house is my reusable cup. I put it in the car every time I go somewhere, just because I never know when I might need a little pick-me-up, or in case I bump into a friend and decide to go for a take-away coffee.
A recent study found that over 22,000 coffee cups are disposed of every hour in Ireland. This crazy number is the equivalent of 200 million coffee cups used once and thrown out every year in this country. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if we had the proper recycling facilities, but we don’t; and since disposable cups are often tossed in the general waste bin along with everything else, their convenience has become a massive waste issue. Despite the government planning the implementation of a 20c levy on disposable coffee cups in the autumn, most coffee shops and petrol stations already offer a rebate when you bring your own reusable cup, so it makes sense to get used to the idea of owning – and bringing a ‘keepcup’ everywhere. A friend gifted me a travel mug a few years ago and it is still going strong – over the years I have tried many reusable cups, from plastic to bamboo and glass ones, but they all eventually broke, and I find the stainless steel mugs the most reliable and sturdiest of all.
Another thing I make sure to always have in the car is a glass bottle, which I top up with water before I leave. That ensures I won’t need to buy a plastic one when I’m thirsty or if I need to top up the car radiator with water. A 2014 study found that several cancer-causing chemicals leach in the water if a plastic bottle is exposed to heat, which it does if left in the car in the summer, so I’d rather be safe than sorry and keep a glass bottle in there.
We like to treat ourselves to the odd chipshop dinner in our household, and food vendors are one of the worst offenders when it comes to single use waste. When ordering food, I always tell the person at the counter that I would rather not have any plastic with it – that includes Styrofoam tubs of mayonnaise and curry sauce, and the disposable plastic cutlery and straws. The green plastic cutlery that is given by some food vendors, although supposedly compostable, require industrial composters, which are not readily available on the streets and therefore end up in the general waste bin. I keep some stainless steel cutlery in the glove compartment of the car for these occasions, but I also gladly accept the wooden cutlery offered by some vendors because I reuse it to label my pots of homegrown veggies in the garden. And even if it only lasts me one season, it does stop me from buying plastic labels, and makes me feel very clever altogether!
At this time of year, I often see families and couples eating ice cream at petrol stations and wonder why they keep their engine idling when it’s been proven that car fumes are toxic to breathe, especially for children. Turning the car off when going for a quick run to the shop or just sitting in it is such a simple thing to do, and with the rising costs in fuel I’m surprised more people haven’t copped on to it.
When out in the garden, I keep mosquitos and midges at bay by rubbing crushed lavender flowers on my arms, ankles, and calves. Lavender and other aromatic plants such as mint, thyme, and rosemary produce a fragrance and oils that act as a natural mosquito repellent. Or you can just drop some lavender infused oil on a clean cloth and rub it onto your skin.
It goes without saying that if you want to reduce waste in your home, you need to bring a tote or a reusable bag with you when doing your grocery shopping and running errands, but there are things so simple to make at home with a couple of ingredients that you will wonder why you didn’t start doing them years ago. Making lemon sorbet is one of the easiest things to do, and this recipe doesn’t require any special machine – just a freezer and a timer because you need to give the mixture a quick stir every hour. All you need is 250g of white caster sugar, the juice of two or three lemons, and a thick strip of lemon peel. I like to add some vodka to the mixture but that’s optional! Place the sugar, lemon juice, and the lemon peel in 250ml of water and heat up until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil for three minutes, remove the lemon peel (and add the optional vodka) and let the mixture cool down before pouring it in a container with a lid. Put the container in the freezer for an hour and a half, and then using a whisk break up the mixture to incorporate the ice crystals which have started to form on the edges. Return to the freezer for an hour and mix again, repeating this pattern every hour three more times. You can trust me when I say this refreshing summer treat will keep your partner and kids asking for more!
Finally, I like to use ‘leftover water’ to water our plants, and I harvest rainwater from our roof to water the greenhouse and top up the water tray for the garden birds. If the last two months are anything to go by, we need to value our water consumption and start using what we readily have available. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ as they say, and harvest water when it rains.