No incontinent handbags and stay chilled in the heat… One Green Summer series

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Baking hot 29 degree sunshine, parched ground, no shade. My son was taking part in an Under 9s cricket tournament and he was putting masses of pressure on himself. My daughter was generously giving out rocks she had smashed open to reveal crystals within…. then regretting it and trying to reclaim them. In short, the temperature was rising!

There was no better day to test out the children’s double insulated water bottles from Klean Kanteen, promising to keep their water iced for 40 hours or (not terribly weather appropriate right now) their hot chocolate warm for 12 hours.

Made from stainless steel, I was reassured that the materials are non-toxic and BPA free and very critically for poor me who has been known to drip water from my handbag like an incontinent guinea pig… THEY DON’T LEAK.

The lid is plastic, but compared to the usual twist cap bottles we use that seem to need replacing every month (because they get yucky in the cap, split when dropped or get chewed lids) this is a massive reduction in plastic.

The kids like them, find them easy to open and close and are pleased with the fact that no one else at school has them.

Meanwhile, I have been testing the entirely plastic-free Reflect bottle. It’s made from sustainably harvested bamboo, stainless steel and food-grade silicone. Nothing else. It is a good-looking bottle, equally at home by the yoga mat as it is going to the beach.

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The plastic-free Reflect bottle

They are very effective. All three bottles can be hot to the touch on the exterior when left in the sun, in the OVEN TEMPERATURE car for example, but within the water remains icy loveliness.

And as for the cricket tournament, it all ended well. My son’s team came second, and my daughter gave the crystal rock back to the (wailing) child who she had ‘reclaimed’ it from. And the water remained as chilled at the G&T I came home to.

For more info, and to check out the plastic-free bottles and other products, visit: http://www.kleankanteen.co.uk

I was sent this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

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One green summer series COMING SOON!

This summer I am trying and testing the most exciting green products on the market. For me to share them with you, they have got to be good, VERY GOOD – I have to love them.

I’m researching small companies seeking to do things differently, challenging the old, eco-unfriendly ways. Maybe they are helping to reduce our use of plastic or finding new uses for unwanted materials. I’m looking for bold, innovative and, importantly, lovely things.

WATCH THIS SPACE!

Pond action

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My 93 year old grandad had a bit of a predicament. A badger fell into his fish pond and drowned. It wasn’t something he could get out on his own. Just a few days after the unfortunate pond cleaners came in to sort it out, a fox came to drink, and not caring that it was seen, it lapped ferociously.

In this heat and drought, wildlife needs water desperately, taking risks to get it. I’m glad our tiny pond in our garden is doing its bit, and have topped it up a little in recent days.

With young children, I’ve shied away from a bigger pond in my garden because of safety concerns, but just a tiny, shallow pond can still bring massive benefits for nature. Not only that, but creating a mini pond is a quick, garden project that will bring a whole new dimension to even the smallest outdoor space. It’s one that children can help with, and will get endless pleasure from after just a week or so.

Firstly, you need a water tight container. Something that is about 40cm deep at least, and roughly half a metre squared is enough to be worthwhile. I used a cut off plastic barrel, buried below the soil level (but would work equally well above it). An old sink or tin bath would work just as well. You could also try a wooden half-barrel, lined with pond liner which will be at an ideal height for young children to look in.

Fill it with rainwater from a butt, ideally, but if that’s not possible you can use tap water. Just make sure you then leave it a week before adding in your water plants. You’ll need a few small, oxygenating plants such as the dwarf water lily or water soldiers. Many species don’t need planting – they just float on the water surface.

Finally, you can add in a wooden ramp or pile of stones to help wildlife such as frogs to access the water (and get out again) and a few rocks nearby to offer a hiding place. As that badger found out, it is important for wildlife of any size to have a way to escape.

After that, it’s pretty self-maintaining. You may need to top up the levels with a little collected rainwater when it is very hot and dry, and any out of control plants can be trimmed back, but other than that, you can sit back and enjoy. However, do remember that young children will still need supervising even if it is shallow.

If you build it, they will come. Soon, you’ll be welcoming creatures such as toads, frogs, newts, dragon flies, pond skaters, water snails as well as providing a drink for birds and hedgehogs. Just a little bit of water really is the source of life.

Wake up, Kick Ass, Period. #greenperiod #eco-friendly

WUKA

I have a pair of bright red big pants that are approximately 20 years old and have affectionately become known as my period pants. Like a beacon they brightly inform all and sundry (well, my husband) that it is that TOTM.

So I’m well accustomed to less than attractive lingerie options when necessary. I’m also fully apprised of the damage done to the environment by disposable sanitary products. As the Women’s Environmental Network states, women in the UK use an average of over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their reproductive lifetime.

I’ve written before about the damage done to marine environments by tampons being flushed and there is also the horrible fact that most sanitary products are predominantly plastic, which even in landfill will not biodegrade.

Not to mention the cost and the controversial tampon tax – we’re still paying it until at least April 2018.

So I am surely a perfect candidate for trying the new generation of period pants… yep, those that you wear with nothing else, with their built in absorbency, which are then washed and re-used…. Surely I’m totally fine with that?

Yet I am also a product of my generation. A ‘grumble about PMT and wanting chocolate’ is perfectly acceptable female bonding but we rarely discuss the detail of how we deal with actual blood in varying quantities. We are used to neat and discrete. We are used to peculiar fragranced products and adverts showing blue fluid.

I was sent a prototype of WUKA wear absorbent period pants – WUKA stands for Wake up, Kick Ass, Period.

I put them on with trepidation. The underwear is no worse looking than my dreaded red period pants although in a more muted navy. They are fuller coverage than ‘normal’, ‘sexy’ knickers but are sleek and comfortable and certainly not visible under tight jeans.

In fact, based on feedback from testers, the appearance and cut has been improved since the pair I tried, and they look like nice, sporty knickers with a higher leg line.

I tried them for a day and they were fine – they were definitely not going to leak. It is a big shift in behaviour to not change them half way through the day as you would a sanitary towel. But you know what, it is ok and still feels hygienic. They are anti-bacterial so won’t smell and were certainly very absorbent.

I realise my language is slightly tepid – ‘fine’, ‘ok’ but that is the reality. This doesn’t make my period go away or suddenly become incredible, it just makes it ok, something to forget about.

Washing them too, is ‘fine’. I’m not squeamish about giving the pants a little rinse before chucking them in the machine (although this rinse isn’t required) – at 40 degrees.

Then I had a breakthrough moment.

Period arrived one evening. Plenty of tampons but no towels. I don’t like wearing tampons at night so felt a bit glum. Then I recalled the Period Pants. They were not ‘fine’ or ‘ok’ they had become the Period Pants of Wonder (P-POW). It was with genuine excitement that I pulled them on and slept comfortably, realising that I don’t have to be a consumer and that with these, I am always prepared.

So here’s my verdict:

Daytime use: fine – they absorb four tampons worth so really are safe and secure. Some people may choose to wear them as a back-up for a tampon on heavy days or when your period might start but hasn’t yet, especially while you learn to trust them and shift  your perception of what you do at that TOTM.

Night-time use – Pants of Wonder, Pants of Joy. Comfortable, leak-free and always there for you.

Every woman should have a few pairs of these. They’ll save you money in the long run, protect the environment and stop you being a monthly slave to parting with money just to chuck it away. I’ll be buying more and using them in the day too now I’ve got used to the whole concept.

The project is still at the funding stage, with a Kickstarter campaign. Pledge here to support production of the undies and receive your pair of pants when they are made.

My pair of pants was sent to me to try for free by Ruby at Wuka wear in exchange for feedback that helped improve the product.

 

What’s brown and magic?

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It is beneath your feet and grows the food you eat, but as a society we take it for granted. The good old brown stuff, soil, is one of our unsung heroes. Trees and bees get all the attention – they are, let’s face it, rather more active and endearing than soil. However, it is time for soil to take its turn in the spotlight… Ladies and Gentlemen, today is #WorldSoilDay.

So we all know that soil is essential for food production, obvs, but don’t forget that plants are also grown to provide fibre for energy, clothing, medicines and animal feed. Not only that, but according to the Soil Association, soil also stores most of the world’s carbon (beat that, trees) and is home to an incredible amount of living organisms, such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi. In fact, just one teaspoon of soil can contain as many micro-organisms as there are people on the planet.

Soil is also vital in its role as storing and filtering water. This means that it increases our resilience against floods as well as droughts.

As if that wasn’t enough, the good bacteria in soil are also beneficial for our health. Contact with soil makes us happier and smarter and explains why activities such as gardening can help with mental health.

That’s nice then. Thanks soil for being there. I’m off now to find some buzzy little bees to save… Bye…

Except, stop. Soil isn’t ‘just there’ a static, immovable constant in our lives. In fact, our soils are in danger. They are disappearing at a rate that is alarming for future generations, with 2.2 million tonnes being lost and degraded in the UK each year. This is caused by factors such as expanding cities, transport infrastructure and pollution – either industrial or through the inefficient use of fertilisers.

Not only that, but climate change may increase rates of loss if drier conditions make soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, or if intense rainfall washes soil away. It’s much harder to put it back than it is to look after it.

The Soil Association campaigns for better protection for soil, including supporting organic farming practices and promoting best practice. We can all do our bit for soil too.

Organic may be part of the solution, but it can be more costly. As an alternative, seek out the LEAF marque (a symbol of a leaf) which indicates that products have been grown sustainably.

Next, think about your own patch of soil and how you can look after it. If you have a garden, however tiny, then get composting. Leaves, cut grass, fruit and veg peelings and tea bags will all mulch together in perfect harmony in a compost heap or bin. You’ll end up with lovely rich organic matter to spread onto your flower beds and help make healthy soil.

Don’t buy peat-based compost either. This is a direct way of digging up special habitats and valuable carbon stores. The peat-free alternatives these days perform just as well.

It is most definitely brown and at first glance rather boring, but soil is the very stuff of life and it needs our love.

No dirty secrets this Valentines

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Take your average supermarket rose. That bloom was probably grown thousands of miles away – Columbia and Ecuador are major exporters of cut flowers. The result is that your well-meaning bunch of flowers this Valentines comes with a significant carbon footprint.

Those pretty flowers have other dark secrets too. Many are not grown under Fairtrade agreements, meaning that workers may be exploited. The International Labor Rights Fund found that more than half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers suffered work-related health problems such as eye and respiratory problems due to high uses of pesticides and fungicides. In high season, working weeks of over 70 hours were not unusual.

Your rose, when cut, is then doused in chemicals to keep it ‘fresh’ for the flight and wrapped in masses of plastic. It will arrive with you already a week old, with quite a past. All for something that’s sole purpose is to look pretty for a short while, to then end up in the compost.

Oddly, for a nation of gardeners, only 10% of the cut flowers sold here are actually grown in the UK. This is gradually changing, with more and more small scale producers entering the market. Cornwall is increasingly developing a flower production industry, but the East of England is blooming too, with Suffolk well known for roses and Colchester for its peonies.

The appeal of the vintage look has also led to natural flower arrangements growing in popularity for weddings, including wild flowers such as cow parsley, cornflowers, sunflowers, or apple blossom for a fresh, original ‘just picked from the hedgerow’ feel.

The success of Georgie Newbery’s book, ‘The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit’ shows that there is an increasing interest in avoiding the shops by growing lots of beautiful flowers at home, or indeed setting up a small scale business. Many people who want to grow flowers have a target in mind, such as providing all the flowers needed for a family wedding or party.

With that traditional day of flower giving, Valentine’s Day, fast approaching, don’t give a bunch of roses with a dirty secret. Instead, choose British blooms from a local florist, or at the very least, seek Fairtrade roses. I’d far rather a bunch of cheery daffodils than imported roses (husband take note). And remember, British flowers last longer than imported ones, so whoever you are buying for, you’ll stay in their good books for longer.

KB, first published in the EDP and EADT

Win a copy of ‘Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons.’

 

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Forget what the dates say, today is Officially the First Day of Autumn. Bye bye sun cream, hello anorak.

Nature has felt it coming for weeks now. The swallows are restless. Youngsters are testing their wings, growing stronger daily. A last-minute second brood is nearly ready to fledge. My children collect the blackberries, chestnuts and conkers with serious determination as if hibernation is impending.

I, meanwhile, have to fight that ‘bleurgh’ feeling I get when summer is over. A proper ‘back to school’ slump into a more indoors existence, when children argue and the television becomes more tempting. I love seasons and the sense of change, but this transition is a hard one for me. I am happiest when the swallows are here.

Still, I do know that autumn is beautiful and I try to immerse myself in its soft, muted glory. At least darkness now arrives on cue for the children’s bedtime, which certainly helps with settling them at a reasonable time.

Best of all, I’ve been curling up with Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons, edited by Melissa Harrison. It’s a rich and varied collection of nature writing. You’ll find John Clare, Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas alongside modern favourites and new discoveries; I’ve loved reading Helen Macdonald, Matt Gaw, Lucy McRobert and most fabulously of all, Jon Dunn’s moving tale of a chicken thief.

As you might expect, there are anthologies of Spring and Summer, and soon, sure as night follows day, Winter. They have all been produced thanks to a collaboration between the Wildlife Trusts and publishers Elliot & Thompson.

I am biased about loving it, for a short piece of my writing features alongside my nature writing idols.

It looks gorgeous too, perfect for gifts and very much one for the coffee table.

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, then share with me what you love about autumn on Twitter @Kateblincoe or in the comments below. I’ll put your ideas in a hat and my kids will pick one out to decide the winner on Thursday 6th October (entries by midnight). The book has kindly been provided by Elliot & Thompson.