Sustainable Summer

Newquay Beach in Cornwall

My daughter is constantly asking me how many days it is to summer so I have a daily reminder that it just around the corner and to be honest I’m counting down the days too. I have more free time when the kids are in school and the house stays cleaner for way longer! But sometimes the academic year feels like a treadmill of actions and obligations; sign this form, get this item, negotiate this playground fracas. The first week of July is like one long exhalation in our house. We made it! We survived another academic year! No grubby uniforms, no half-eaten packed lunches, no unending homework. Just us, together with 8 long weeks of pyjama-wearing lolling about on our to-do list. Of course we’ll end up killing each other by week 3 but for now we’re ignoring that reality and remaining firmly fixated on our rose-tinted imaginaries of summertime.

I hope your summer will too be full of rose-tinted imaginaries – to make them more sustainable read on.

under the same sun bikini

Swimwear
Last year I wrote up a post on sustainable ethical swimwear brands so check that out if you’re in need of a new cossie. I update it whenever I come across a new brand that’s available in Ireland.

Beach Footwear
I pick up flip-flops second-hand in charity shops but if that doesn’t float your boat and you want a new pair here are two brands to consider.

Ecolaf Flip Flops

Ecoalf is a Spanish brand that makes flip-flops for men and women from recycled tyres and through it’s foundation Ecoalf are involved in a project to clean our oceans of waste called Upcycling the Oceans.  You can also buy their shoes through FAAM, an online retail store.

Rider Sandals

Rider are a Brazilian brand that use some recycled material in the making of their flip-flops. I don’t normally include non-European brands in my posts but you can get this brand through online retailer the Natural CollectionSpirit of NatureFrank and Faith and the Ethical Superstore.

wooden sandglasses

Sunglasses
It was during my research that I started lusting after a pair of wooden sunglasses, which I was thrilled to source locally from an Irish company. Recently I posted a review of some wooden sunglasses that I purchased from Kildare based Raw Roots. My discovery of Raw Roots was completely serendipitous as I did not find them during my internet trawl for suppliers. Just goes to show Google does not know everything! Here are a list of some other wooden sunglasses retailers based in Europe include;

Sea 2 See Sunglasses

An alternative to wooden sunglasses are those made by Spanish company Sea 2 See. They make frames from recycled plastic marine waste.

Recycled Denim Sunglasses

Or how about recycled denim sunglasses handmade in Cornwall.

When buying glasses you ensure that the lenses that are UV400 or above. These will block 99.9% of UVA rays and UVB rays.  If you wear dark glasses that don’t block UVA or UVB rays then you’ll be damaging your eyes more than if you weren’t sunglasses at all. This is because dark glasses cause your pupils to dilate, exposing them to more UVA and UVB rays unless the lenses block them. Additionally polarised lenses can decrease the amount of glare, which can dazzle and strain your vision.

Also make sure that the glasses fit you well and cover your eye sufficiently. Wrap around glasses give the greatest protection. If you think there is light seeping around your glasses then consider the added protection of a hat.

Phyts Sun Care

Sunscreen / Sunblocks
When it comes to sun protection there are two types of products; sunscreens and sun blocks. Sunscreens are usually made up of a mix of chemicals that reflect or scatter the light away from the skin and absorb the UV rays so that our skin doesn’t. Sunblocks use inorganic chemicals, including minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, to act as a physical sunblock. They reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light. In the past sunblock were very noticeable on the skin but now inorganic particles can be made much smaller and so aren’t as visible.

Another type of radiation, called UVA radiation, penetrates deeper into the skin and can cause premature wrinkling, age spots and can also heighten the risk for some skin cancers. Sunscreen lotions labelled as ‘broad-spectrum’ block against both UVA and UVB, but currently there is no standard for listing UVA blocking power. Inorganic chemicals that deflect sunlight will deflect both UVA and UVB rays.

It seems as if the whole area of suncream is problematic, both from a health and environmental point of view. Some of the chemicals in sunscreen have recently come under fire for possibly being carcinogenic (cancer-causing) or otherwise harmful, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. Scientists found that oxybenzone absorbs into the skin and is present in urine long after sunscreen is applied, so some researchers have suggested not using sunscreens containing this chemical on children. Also in a preliminary study last year, large quantities of nano-particles of titanium dioxide was shown to cause genetic damage in mice. See below for information on which brands clearly don’t use nano-particles.

Research carried out in 2008 found that organic ultraviolet filters in sunscreen lead to bleaching of corals in areas of high leisure activity and in 2015 a team reported that oxybenzone is toxic to the symbiotic algae that live within corals, which provides their color and performs other vital duties, and also stunts the growth of corals. Sunblock formulas with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide below 100 nanometers can be ingested by corals and are to be avoided. The HEL list is a list of chemicals that are known pollutants in many different environments (freshwater streams, river, beaches, and ocean systems) or wildlife (e.g., corals, fish, birds, marine mammals, sea turtles). All of them pose a threat to Ecosystem Health.

So how do you avoid unhealthy, coral bleaching sunscreen? Well until such time as there is a widespread certification for ‘coral friendly’ sunscreen you’re going to have to check the list of ingredients in your preferred product and check it against the HEL list referred to above. During my research I came across a coral reef safe facial suncream from the Beauty Kitchen, made from 100% derived natural ingredients and free from nano mineral particles.

Louth based Biofresh offer cruelty and paraben-free suncare products that contain certified natural and organic ingredients. You can buy through their website or in their salons in Drogheda, Co Louth and Swords, Co Dublin. There is no evidence of independent certification on their website.

UK Green People offer a range of natural and organic suncare products that are free from cruelty, SLS, parabens, lanolin, perfumes, propylene glycol, artificial synthetic fragrances, Colourants, petrochemicals, PABA-sunscreen, Urea, PEG’s, DEA and TEA. They say their products are suitable for all skin types, particularly sensitive skin and possibly those prone to eczema and psoriasis. Their product pages are very informative and list each of the certifications that apply to them. These certificates include ones from the Organic Soil Association, the Organic Food Federation, the Vegan Society, the Good Shopping Guide and EcoCert. The company also donates 10% of their net profit to ‘green’ health and environmental charities. Their Irish website states that their packaging is recyclable, are fully biodegradable and when burned release only Carbon Dioxide and water.

Beauty Kitchen are based in Scotland and aim to make 100% effective, natural and affordable products that only contain 100% pure essential oils plus naturally derived ingredients. Their products are also cruelty free and some are labelled ‘vegan friendly’ even their seahorse plankton face cream! You can buy from their website or via Holland and Barrett stores.

Founded in 1987 and located in Germany Lavera make 100% certified natural suncare products with plant ingredients, using organic where possible. Their products are all free from cruelty, parabens, SLS, silicone, paraffin, GMO ingredients, synthetic preservatives, synthetic emulsifiers, synthetic fragrances, synthetic colours. Most of their products are gluten-free and vegan. Each product page helpfully lists all the ingredients contained in each product.  The company is certified by NaTrue. Interestingly the American version of the Lavera website says it’s an ‘organic’ skincare company, while the German one simply states ‘natural’ skincare using organic ingredients. Their website states that since the enactment of the EU Regulation on Cosmetic Products in 2013, particles between 1 and 100 nm must be declared under the term ‘nano’ in the ingredient list of sun protection products, e.g. ‘titanium dioxide (nano)’. It goes on to state that ‘lavera sun protection products comply 100% with EU regulations and the Regulation on Cosmetic Products and meet their requirements regarding the use of nano-particles. Considering this and the fact that the list of ingredients in their sun cream only lists titanium dioxide I’m going to conclude that they don’t use nano particles.

The company JASÖN® have been running since 1959 and offer both mineral and non-mineral sunscreens that are free of cruelty, mineral oils, lanolin, petrolatum and nanoparticles. Where palm oil or palm derived products are used in their products the company states that they are obtained from sources that support organic and/or sustainable palm practices.  Their products do not contain meat or any products obtained from killing animals. They state that their skincare is classed as natural, although some individual products are 100% organic and certified as such by the USDA in the USA. The BUAV bunny is visible on the UK website.

German brand Weleda is one of the oldest skincare companies, having begun in 1921. Their products are non-toxic, paraben-free, synthetic fragrance-free, SLS-free and GMO-free and are certified as natural by NaTrue. They state that approximately three-quarters of their plant ingredients come from organic or biodynamic farming and from certified wild collection. They are also engaged in fair trade farming agreements with their suppliers and have a network of them across Europe. They clearly state that the titanium oxide in their sunscreen lotion is non-nano.

Set up in 1972 French brand Phyt’s offer 100% natural mineral-based sunscreens made with organic ingredients. You can buy their products online or from the beauty salon Virginia Claire in Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W. They list all of the ingredients on their website and the company are signed up to a quality charter by Cosmebio, a self-regulating Professional Association for Natural, Ecological and Organic cosmetics. Their organic ingredients are also certified by EcoCert and Agriculture Biologic.  According to their website the Zinc Oxide and Titanium minerals in their sun care products are non-nano. 

Moogoo is a family owned Australian company making mineral-based suncare products from natural ingredients, which they list on each product. They claim to be one of the greenish skincare companies around and have a video showing what they do on their website! No evidence of certification was available on their website.

Aloe Pura is a brand of sunscreens and suncare products that you see frequently in health food stores. I have really struggled to find a website for the company, which concerns me. The Holland and Barrett website states that Aloe Pura Aloe Vera Sun Lotion is produced from organic and certified Aloe Vera gel and that it is free from free from parabens, paraffin/petroleum, lanolin and salicylates. No independent certification for these claims could be found online.

Homemade Sunscreen
You’ll find a lot of recipes online for homemade sunscreen if you’re interested. I’ve done a little digging on the purported spf ratings of natural oils and it seems that the evidence is very sketchy. I can’t find any research that definitively states that sunblocking performance of natural oils and unless something is independently tested I don’t trust its efficacy. If I do trial something myself I’ll post a review but for now I’m not comfortable share something that could put someone at risk of cancer.

Self Tanning Products
If you’ve done a very successful job of protecting your skin from the sun you may want to artificially add a tint of tan.  Tan Organic are an Irish company that uses natural and organic ingredients to make their self tanning products. They are also the only eco-certified self- tanning brand in the world and were recently listed as 9th best ethical cosmetic brand by the very well-respected Good Shopping Guide. Their website states that they source ingredients from ethically run producers, that they never test on animals and that their products are cruelty free.  Their products are certified by EcoCert, The Ethical Company Organisation & PETA. They use glass packaging and a biodegradable PLA made from extracts of corn and they state that they recycle, reuse, and reduce their waste wherever and whenever they can. They also give back to the community through their charity support program.

E

PS – This time in previous years I posted on

 

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Creating an Ornamental Garden; Spring Colour

Purple Drumstick Primrose

I think it’s safe to say that spring has finally sprung in Ireland. We’re seeing splashes of colour in the garden and hearing the buzz of insects as they flitter about. If you’re in the process of starting a flower garden from scratch or need to rejuvenate an existing one you might be interested in this series of blog posts. I’ve previously posted Creating a Garden the Easy Way and shared some really clever Gardening Hacks and now I’m going to do a series of posts highlighting my favourite plants of the moment. I’ll be focusing on easy-to-grow, readily available, inexpensive perennial plants of the season, with a final post on shrubs, which I’ll post in the Autumn when it’s the best time to plant them.  I may be late with this first instalment but on the plus side some of the plants I mention here will soon be selling at a discount in garden centres!

Why bother with a garden at all? Well apart from the proven physical and mental health benefits of gardening, our gardens serve as oases for pollination insects in towns and cities.  Just consider how small a bee is in comparison to the vast expansiveness of nectar deserts (aka tarmac, concrete and lawns) and you get a sense of just how difficult life must be for them. If we can get every garden growing some form of accessible nectar rich plants we can create a living highways for these vulnerable beasties.

I’m purposely only going to feature perennial plants that I personally find easy to grow and slug and disease resistant. For me annuals are such a waste of money, time and resources, unless you’re able to grow them from seeds sown directly in the ground. You may notice that a few spring stalwarts are missing from my list, like tulips. This is intentional. Although beautiful, I find tulips to be fussy buggers, if the weather’s too warm they open too wide and lose their glamour, if the weather is too wet or windy and they get destroyed, the shows over for another year. Plus the hybridise varieties (man-made varieties) tend to need replacing every year if you want a good show – what a waste!

Here’s my top 9 Super Spring Perennials

Cyclamens offer fantastically dramatic colour in the winter garden and are a favoured plant by all garden centres. The variety that you typically see in the shops is an non-hardy variety that will not typically return the following year, unless it’s protected. One variety is fully hardy and will come back year after year. It’s called cyclamen hederifolium and I’ve been hunting for one for ages and was lucky enough to find one this year in the garden centre at Powerscourt. If you look after this plant and don’t let it get too wet in the winter it’ll return year after year, spreading as it does. It’s a woodland plant so tends to like some shade in the summer. This could be provided by a nearby deciduous shrub or a herbaceous plant.

Snowdrop

The very first plant to poke its head up in January or February in Ireland is the Snowdrop and I love seeing it emerge. There are hundreds of varieties and you can spend a fortune on some of them. They tend to grow in most conditions but do like some shade in the summer, so plants them where they’ll get shade from a deciduous shrub or a herbaceous plant. I like to sprinkle summer seeds over my spring bulbs so that I have interest in the spot left by the snowdrops when they’ve gone over and I’m less likely to dig up the bulbs in error.  Unlike most bulbs snowdrops are best planted just after they’ve finished flowering. This year i wanted to bulk out my snowdrop display but really struggled to find any in the garden centres, but I eventually found some plants in Lidl for €1.39 each. When the flowers are finished, remove them so that the plant doesn’t waste energy making seed and puts its energy back into the bulb instead. Allow the leaves to die back naturally.

Snowflake

Following on a few weeks later from the snowdrop is the snowflake. This is a more statuesque cousin to the snowflake and is a really great addition to the spring border. There is a spring variety and a summer variety, with the latter flowering from mid to late spring. The leaves of the snowflake last longer than that of other spring bulbs but it looks healthy for most of the time so can be a nice backdrop to summer flowering plants. Just remember to deadhead like the snowdrops. I’ve heard that slugs eat them but I’ve never had an issue in my garden, and I have lots of problems with slugs and snails. Best planted in full sun or partial shade.

Aubrieta

Aubrieta is very quick to follow snowdrops and snowflakes in my garden and its purple blossoms provides a wonderful contrast to the typical yellow / white colour palette of spring. The flowers themselves are not particularly spectacular but the plant can create a vivid carpet of colour in spring.  It is a plant that is very drought tolerant, but it’s also survived my water retentive clay soil, not to mention snowfalls. It’s meant to prefer a lime rich soil but it does very well in my neutral soil. It flowers best in full sun but does very well in partial shade in my garden. Just give it a prune after it’s flowered to tidy it up a bit.

Pink Hellebore

Another favourite of mine is the Hellebore. As with snowdrops these come in a variety of styles but unusual ones can be hard to come by and because they take a long time to mature the plants can be quite expensive. The best value I’ve found for unusual hellebores was in the garden centre at Powerscourt where I paid €13 per plant. Hellebores are woodland plants so like to be shaded from the summer sun. The only problem I’ve had with hellebores is blackened leaves on occasion, which I remedy by removing the leaves and burning or composting in the brown bin. I wouldn’t compost these in my own composter but it doesn’t reach the temperatures required to kill the fungus, unlike municipal composters. If you google images of hellebores you’ll see the range of colour they can be bought in, just be careful not to plant different varieties too close to one another or they’ll cross fertilise and result in a muddy flower colour over time.

Daffodils

As we move into late spring we start to get even more colour, typically in the form of daffodils. Most of use are very familiar with the traditional all-yellow daffodil that comes out in March, but the range of colours and flowering times is huge. If you wanted to you could have daffodils flowering in your garden from November right through to April and in shades ranging from cream, through peach to orange. As with most spring bulbs daffodils are planted in their dried form in the Autumn. They won’t be available to buy yet but in Autumn, when they do, consider buying organic daffodil bulbs from Fruithill Farm in Co Cork. Plant them in a sunny spot twice as deep as the bulb height. I always plant the bulbs closer than recommended because I think it gives a neater display. As with snowdrops remove the flowers when they’ve gone over and let the leaves die back naturally.

Double Primroses

Primroses feature heavily in my spring garden because they don’t get eaten by slugs! I have two varieties, the drumstick (see top image) and doubles, both of which multiply so easily that I always have some to give away every autumn.  These are another woodland plant and would benefit from some summer shade but I struggle to provide this for all of my plants so some are in full sun all year and survive quite happily. Drumstick primroses tend to come in pink, blue-purple or white and the doubles could in a huge range of colours from white through to red. The only downside to the double primroses is their inaccessibility for pollinating insects. Double flowers aren’t great for pollinators as they can’t access the nectar.

Dicentra Spectabilis

Dicentra Spectablis give a huge amount of bang for its buck. It’s an elegant plant with arching flower stems bejewelled with heart-shaped dropped flowers. This plant emerges every spring, flowers and then slowly dies back over the summer so put it next to a plant that will enlarge over the summer to fill the blank spot. The only looking after this plant needs is protection from heavy showers, which can break the delicate stems. I do this by supporting the foliage with metal hoops before it starts to flower. I have the pink variety in my garden but you can get varieties with red or white flowers too. All varieties like partial shade.

If you want to find out more information on any of the plants here check out the Plant Finder tool on the RHS website

E

PS – This time in previous years I’ve posted

Minimalist Non-Toxic Zero Waste Skin and Hair Care

jar of almond oil, almond nuts and a spoon

I aim to buy as little as possible in life, partly for environmental reasons, partly for economic reasons and partly (mostly if I’m honest) because the less you own the easier housework is. For me minimalism is all about saving time and hassle and this philosophy extends to my skin and hair care routine, which I’ve successfully whittled down to 8 items in total. Most are homemade from edible ingredients, but all are toxic and fuss free and organic where I can afford.

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Sustainable Shopping: An Oxymoron?

Bamboo Utensil

Okay, so I’m always harping on about the dangers of being swept away in the aesthetics of the Zero Waste ‘lifestyle’,  with its shiny stainless steel bottles and cotton produce bags in muted tones. After all buying ‘stuff’ is an anathema to sustainable living.  All of that still stands but sometimes investing in a few well-considered products can help us live more sustainable in the long run. The trick is having enough knowledge to make the right purchasing decisions and not just end up with more useless crap in our lives, and that’s where this post comes in!

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Easy Peasy 5 minute Homemade Ice Cream

strawberry ice cream close up

Apparently the fine weather we’re getting in Ireland at the moment is set to continue over the weekend. It’s been described as a heat wave with temps rising to 20 degrees. I’m sure some of you are chuckling at this being called a heat wave but given the dreary, cold, wet winter and spring we’ve had we’re going to take whatever we can get.  Now I really hope I don’t jinx this spell of warm weather with a post about ice-cream so with fingers cross here’s a simple 5 minute 4 ingredient recipe for homemade ice-cream that doesn’t require an ice cream maker.

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