Welcome to the Green Elephant Blog! We love all things sustainable, healthy & ethical and this is the place where we put our latest discoveries for sustainable living. Here you will find our thoughts on healthy & ethical products we love, and the environment and generally helpful and interesting information to help you care of the earth and live an eco friendly life.
Now that many supermarkets and big chain stores have chosen to ban plastic bags at the checkout (great move we think), most of you will be getting into the habit of taking your reusable shopping bags with you. We have raved about reusable shopping bags for ages and it’s great to see them being used and promoted more widely now.
But what’s next..?? Reducing your plastic footprint when shopping (and especially grocery shopping) isn’t just about checkout bags. If you’re looking to reduce your single use plastic even further, how can you take it to the next level…???
We’ve compiled a short guide with some tips about what you can use so you leave the supermarket with minimal plastic. Sure, there is bound to be some plastic in your trolley (unless you are a plastic free ninja already), but don’t feel bad about this as it takes practice to master waste free shopping. Moving towards LESS plastic packaging and making small changes one at a time is way better than not doing anything.
1. Reusable Shopping Bags for Groceries
We’ve all seen the ads and hopefully now experienced the lack of bags available at the checkouts. This is just another incentive for you to make sure you take your reusable bags with you when you’re shopping. Please don’t leave them in the car or on the bench at home….!!
For a weekly grocery shop for a family with children, you’re likely to need at least four large shopping bags. I prefer ones with a gusset for grocery shopping because I find they carry more and it’s easier to stack and pack the shopping so the bag stands up in the boot of the car.
It’s also important to get strong bags with sturdy handles which can carry things like tins or glass bottles without tearing. Jute or a thick canvas are great options.
2. Foldable Shopping Bags
Another thing I recommend is to have a foldable shopping bag in your handbag at all times. I have one in each of the handbags I use regularly. There are lots of colourful and elegant designs out there and these bags fold away so are small enough to fit anywhere and go everywhere!! They come in handy for any sort of shopping and I have even used mine for emergency supermarket shopping or impromptu farmers market visits.
3. Produce Bags
Next on the list is produce bags. You know those rolls of thin bags that are placed all around the fresh produce section…?? Well, for some reason these haven’t been banned yet and if you’re anything like me you might need 6 or more of these per shop. They are for holding your loose fresh fruit and veg like apples, oranges, onions and beans – a tricky job without a bag.
There is a great range of reusable produce bags to choose from now. Some are super stretchy, some are mesh or string, some are colourful and striking. All of them are designed to be strong enough to hold your fresh produce but to weigh very little on the scales so you can get your apples weighed in your reusable bag with no fuss. I keep a set of produce bags with my stack of shopping bags so they are all ready to go with me when I’m going waste free shopping.
4. Bulk Bin Bags
Shopping from bulk stores or from the bulk bins in the supermarket is a great way to reduce the amount of packaging you take home. You can shop for all sorts of pantry staples from bulk bins including flour, cereals, nuts and seeds, pasta, dried fruit and grains.
Just like reusable produce bags, the same idea applies here. Instead of using the zip lock plastic bags provided, taking your own reusable bags or containers means less waste. If you’re shopping for things like flour or rice, you’ll need bags that have a tighter weave than most of the produce bags so the grains don’t escape through the holes!! There are bags that are designed especially for this purpose, but a sturdy calico or cotton drawstring bag would also do the trick.
5. Reusable Containers
If you shop at the deli counter of the supermarket or visit the butcher, take your own container along. Most shops are happy to oblige and will weigh your pot and zero the scale before putting in your meat, olives or whatever!! They’ll put a sticker on your container with the price but don’t worry – they usually peel off easily!!
6. Get a Kit
If getting all this set up sounds like hard work, there are now plastic free kits and sets that make it super easy for you to nail a waste free grocery shop…!! Some kits even include items for around the house like bar soaps and eco dish brushes so you can start to extend your lower waste habits into other areas.
These plastic free kits would also make a fantastic gift for that person in your life that is keen to make changes but you know…. they’re not sure where to start. If you are in that headspace too and just need that little kick start to help you reduce your single use plastic, these kits could be just what you need!!
So, if you’re all set and got the reusable bag habit going strong, try taking your less waste journey to the next level with these easy and totally doable tips. You got this xx
Do you normally think about or make resolutions every time a new year rolls around..?? The dawning of an entirely new year and a clean page in a pristine blank diary gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect, adjust and start afresh. Losing weight, drinking less and exercising more are all classic examples of New Year’s Resolutions, but what if you thought a bit beyond the norm and decided to give sustainability and the environment a bit more of a focus…??
Do you hate buying water because of the wasted bottle and the shear outrageous expense of…..water…?? Are you an animal lover who is saddened by the looming extinction of so many beautiful species..?? Or maybe you’re frustrated after throwing out yet another portion of food that went off. If change has been in the too hard box in years gone by, yet you’re feeling the struggle, this blog is for you. We’re here to show you that whatever your ‘thing’ is, there are small, easy adjustments that you can make in your lifestyle that over time, can really make a difference to the bigger picture.
So, here we go….
5 Easy Things to do This Year That Make a Difference
1. Choose to Re-use
New Zealanders produce an awful lot of waste and most of this waste goes into landfills, which are…filling up. We need to reduce the amount and rate at which we’re producing rubbish and one way to do this is to avoid throwaway plastic products. Plastic bags, drink bottles and takeaway coffee cups are all ‘top’ culprits contributing to a large proportion of landfill contents.
So, next year, commit to forming a new habit. Take a drink bottle full of water with you each and every time you go out or get a neat foldable tote for your handbag. If you have a daily take-away coffee, invest in a re-usable coffee cup which could reduce your personal waste by 260 coffee cups every year (based on 1 coffee per day, 5 times a week). Once the habit is formed, it will become second nature and you’ll never look back. Shop our range of totes, shoppers and everything in between here.
2. Go Natural
Our skin is an amazing organ which protects us from disease, regulates our temperature, heals its own wounds and regenerates itself on a daily basis. It’s also highly absorbent, so what we put on our skin gets a fast track into our bloodstream and other organs. There is no better time to Go Natural, avoid harmful synthetic chemicals and treat our skin (and our insides) to high quality, pure ingredients.
If you’re not already embracing the natural skincare movement, then a great way to start is by choosing a skincare product you use regularly like a deodorant or a face cream. Take a look at the ingredients list; are you horrified, or none the wiser..??? Ingredients lists are often a bit of a minefield to navigate (even if you are well informed) so go through the ingredients one by one and if you’re not sure what they are, enter them into the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You’re looking for green results. If you get any reds, then make the commitment to swap out your product for something more natural. Our Health and Beauty category has an amazing selection of cruelty free, organic and natural skin and body products so choosing something altogether nicer and better for your body will be a breeze. And once you discover natural beauty products, you’ll not want to go back!!
3. Grow Your Own
Getting your hands into the soil, sewing a seed, tending a garden and seeing it grow is a really grounding and rewarding thing to do. If you’re successful, it can also be a really great way to boost your supply of veggies which you know are free from chemicals and are a healthy addition to your daily diet. If you don’t have access to a good supply of compost, this soil enhancer from Fodda can be used prior to planting out your seeds or seedlings. Just a few handfuls per square metre will be enough to give your plants a boost!!
4. Get to Know Palm Oil
Palm oil is the world’s most widely produced and consumed vegetable oil – you’ll find it in over half of all products sold in your local supermarket. You might be surprised to hear that there is actually nothing wrong with the oil itself; the issues lie in how it is being produced. Huge demand for the product has led to the illegal destruction of rain forests to make way for new palm oil plantations.
Deforestation and loss of habitat is threatening the existence of thousands of wildlife species including the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Asian rhino and elephant. Read more about the plight of the orangutan and the work of the Orangutan Project here. Avoiding palm oil altogether or choosing products that contain Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is something we can all do to help break the cycle of destruction and damage.
Some companies are going the extra mile and as well as avoiding all palm oil products and ingredients, they donate and support organisations that are working to save the orangutan population and their habitat. One of our Vendors, ZOO, donate 50c from every product they sell to The Orangutan Project!!
If you haven’t seen it before then check out this cool interactive by The Guardian which gives us the full palm oil picture.
5. Love Food Hate Waste
The stats on food waste in New Zealand are shocking. Kiwi households throw away 122,547 tonnes of edible food every year. That’s enough food to feed around 262,917 people, and costs us $872 million….!!
Using up leftovers or simply using and eating the food you have bought is not difficult, but if you’re stuck for ideas the Love Food Hate Waste website is a great place to start. There are heaps of handy tips for food storage and recipes showing you how to make tasty new dishes with leftovers (including ones for the Christmas ham!!). Our blog also has some helpful tips on how to reduce food waste at home.
But sometimes, despite our best efforts, food goes off. Chucking bad food into the bin isn’t a great option (more landfill). Love Food Hate Waste recommend composting if you can – a bokashi home composting kit is a neat solution. You don’t need lots of room, and it produces great compost for your garden quickly and easily. You can get more info and shop for a Zing Bokashi home composting kit here.
So…despite the rubbish weather and the genuinely horrific state of the planet, next year is looking brighter already don’t you think…?? One of the messages we consistently try to get across is that, as individuals, we can’t do it all. We can’t save the planet or the environment by ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we should sit back, shrug our shoulders and deny responsibility….quite the opposite in fact!! We all have the power, the ability and the budget to make a single change for the better and we absolutely should be making that change.
The small actions of many, together, can create the change.
Recently, a Facebook follower of ours pulled us up. She had noticed that one of our Vendors was claiming their products were ‘chemical free’ and she rightly pointed out that this was nonsense.
Well….why..?? Too many chemicals are bad right…?? We don’t want to put chemicals on our baby’s clothes or on their skin do we…?? WRONG.
Chemical Elements are the Building Blocks of Almost Everything
Let’s get back to basics and back to school if you will. Do you remember the periodic table..?? I sure do. I wasn’t much good at chemistry but what I do remember is the periodic table. The periodic table lists all the chemical elements and we were supposed to know all of them by heart. I didn’t….
So what does this table tell us…?? Well, oxygen (O) is on there. It’s a chemical element and we can’t live without it. Combine that with a bit of hydrogen (H) and we have water H2O. Another ‘chemical’ we can’t live without. You know that white stuff we use to bring our food to life…?? Salt. Also a chemical compound made from the elements, sodium and chlorine (NaCl).
In essence, everything we can touch, hold, smell or taste is probably a chemical or made up of a number of chemicals. We should stop using the term ‘chemical free’ and need not be frightened of all chemicals.
Not all Chemicals are Bad. But some Are.
Perhaps the reason why the term ‘chemical free’ was ever ‘born’ or used in the first place was because of the overuse of inappropriate and potentially harmful chemicals in everyday items. We have written previously about ‘nasty’ chemicals that are all too often in our skincare, cleaning and laundry products. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that have been associated with cancer, allergies, reproductive disruption and hormone imbalances to name but a few.
So it’s important that we remember this whilst at the same time being aware that not all chemicals are bad for us.
So what About Natural Products..??
Around the same time that anything ‘chemical’ was deemed the devils work, the word ‘natural’ grew in popularity. And hands up here, I often use the term ‘all natural’ or ‘made from 100% natural ingredients’.
But what does ‘Natural’ Actually Mean..??
The term ‘natural’ is a hard one to define but is widely accepted as a term meaning derived from nature; or naturally occurring, as opposed to being synthetic or created in a lab. But not all things occurring in nature are good for us or even safe…. There are numerous poisons (some are lethal) that come from plants and not-so-nice petroleum and lead are also naturally occurring so the real meaning of the word ‘natural’ is often a matter of perception.
For me personally, as long as I trust the brand, the term ‘natural’ creates some reassurance that the ingredients used will be safe, although I still always read the ingredients list!! Usually, with really natural products I recognise most of what’s in there. I love that my skincare can be made of things like water, coconut oil, shea butter and essential oils (for example). I recently bought a skin cleanser/exfoliator product and the main ingredient was ground almonds. How cool is that…??! Likewise, natural cleaning products might include familiar things like water, alcohol and essential oils.
Natural products are not for everyone though and chemicals that have been formulated and manufactured with care can enhance the performance of skincare; think anti-wrinkle creams, firming lotions, skin peels and masks from the high tech luxury skincare houses that populate the ground floor of department stores.
I am not sure the same can be said for mainstream cleaning and laundry products though because:
a.) There is no requirement to provide a complete list of ingredients, and;
b.) There are usually warnings on the bottles because what IS in there can irritate your skin and eyes, cause burns, trigger allergic reactions…. You see what I mean…?? Not great.
Having established that generally speaking, genuinely natural products are likely to be safer for us and not include potentially harmful and unnecessary chemicals, it’s still not guaranteed and some might argue that claiming products are ‘all natural’ by way of giving them some automatic seal of safety is just as nonsensical as claiming a product is chemical free.
So…Natural Versus Chemical…??
There is no right answer and it really is up to you to work out what you are comfortable with and what works for you and your family.
What we do know for sure is:
1. Nothing is Chemical Free*.
If you see this written somewhere on Green Elephant and it looks like a bit of greenwashing, please challenge us or the Vendor and we will make a correction.
2. Natural Doesn’t Always Mean Safe.
Just because something is derived from nature or ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it is safe for you.
3. Labels Aren’t Always Honest.
Just because a product is labelled ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it won’t contain chemicals that could be bad for you.
*Except for things like heat, gravity, energy….!!
My recommendation – swat up and get to know the chemicals that are best avoided, regardless of what the label says.
My first experience of kombucha was at my neighbour’s house many years ago now. She’s really into ‘natural’ health and is always up with the latest trends in superfoods and natural wellbeing. On this particular day, she had a big jar of dodgy looking brown stuff on her bench with a layer of what looked like a mouldy jellyfish growing on it. Of course, I had to ask her what it was.
She explained that it was her kombucha, a fermented tea drink that was probiotic and good for gut health. I’d never heard of the stuff and quite frankly, it looked yuck and sounded a bit hippyish to me, so I thought nothing more about it.
Apparently it Really Works
My next encounter with kombucha was because of a friend who sadly wasn’t feeling the best. She felt sick all the time and was struggling to eat properly. On a trip to the supermarket she discovered this fermented probiotic drink. She couldn’t remember the name of it but she thought it was ginger something… and she said it made her feel better almost immediately.
So, I went in search of this miracle drink. It turns out my friend had been drinking kombucha which, since seeing it at my neighbours house some years back, has become trendy. Very trendy. My neighbour is clearly ahead of her time!!
And yes….a Kombuchery is a Thing!!
There are a growing number of artisan brands brewing their own unique kombucha flavours and what was once a hippy health drink confined to small organic stores and ‘wholefood’ cafes is now a fashionable brew available everywhere. There is even a Kombuchery that’s been established just north of Auckland complete with a kombucha refillery and taproom!!
I made some deliveries to my friend’s letterbox of various different brands and flavours that I found (she named me her tea fairy….:)) and not wanting to miss out, I thought it must be worth a try. I have sampled a few flavours and some homemade versions, and I definitely enjoy the tanginess of this drink. It’s far more interesting than water but not sweet like so many juices and store bought drinks. Perhaps for this reason, it’s also grown in popularity as an adult soft drink – a great alternative to beer or wine. Because lemonade just doesn’t really cut it anymore.
So, having tried it AT LAST, I think I could definitely develop a Kombucha habit.
A Drink of Kombucha can be Really Good for Us!!
And the added bonus is that it’s also supposed to be very beneficial for your health. There is no scientific evidence to support this but many people report experiencing health benefits after drinking kombucha on a regular basis – my friend included. Reported benefits include aiding digestion, boosting immunity, easing the symptoms of bloat, improving skin tone and general wellness.
But if you love the stuff and drink it regularly…. it could get quite pricey. So, as I had access to a knowledgeable ‘ahead of her time’ neighbour who already knows how to make kombucha and would no doubt donate a good SCOBY, I thought I’d try brewing my own.
You will Need a SCOBY
Tea and sugar are what you start with before adding in the ‘SCOBY’ and some starter, which is just already brewed kombucha. The clever part of this of course, is the SCOBY which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. As soon as you introduce the SCOBY to your kombucha base mixture, the yeast starts to ferment the sugar. This means that in your finished product, there really is very little sugar. After brewing, there are some pretty complex flavours to be enjoyed and the resulting drink is far more than the sum of its parts.
I have seen many pictures of SCOBYs and no two look the same. One thing they do have in common is that they all look weird and kind of unpleasant. Some are thick and a darker yellow/brown colour. Some look reddish and lumpy and mine….well it looks like a thin jellyfish…. It’s a whitish brown colour and it’s slimy. But that’s OK….!!
My SCOBY came complete with instructions on how to make kombucha from my neighbour. I’d researched it already though and it seems the way to brew Kombucha is pretty standard and most recipes follow the same principles.
How to Make Kombucha
1 SCOBY 125ml starter liquid (Kombucha) 3 litres Water 4 Tea Bags (black, green or white tea but not herbal tea) or the equivalent of loose leaf (organic is recommended because regular tea bags have high levels of fluoride apparently)* 250g Raw Sugar (or castor if you prefer)
*Black tea is what I used and it produces a darker drink. If it’s your first time, I suggest you start with this. Once you’ve mastered a few good batches, it’s worth trying green or white tea. My neighbour made up a really nice batch which was pale pink in colour and for this she used green tea. Oolong can also be used so feel free to experiment and see what you like.
You will also need a large jar of 4L capacity and a cloth and band to cover the opening.
1. Put the water and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
2. When the water has boiled, take the pan off the heat; add the tea and leave to steep for 10 minutes.
3. After 10 minutes, remove the tea and leave the liquid to come to room temperature. Don’t leave it overnight though as mould may form.
4. Pour the liquid into your large jar, add the starter and with clean hands lay your SCOBY on the surface of your liquid. There is usually an obvious top and bottom of your SCOBY so try to keep it flat and the same way up as it was in the jar it came in!! I was a bit nervous about touching my SCOBY so for the first time I just poured my starter and SCOBY right in there. The poor SCOBY got a bit misshapen and ‘folded’ but the brew worked out fine. So, don’t worry if this happens to you. Your SCOBY will grow to fit the new vessel.
5. Put a cloth over the top and secure with a band. Leave the big jar in a dark place with a warmish constant temperature. A hot water cupboard is ideal. We don’t have one of these so mine went in the laundry which is dark but not especially warm. All was well.
6. Leave your brew for 7 days and have a taste. I got myself a jar with a little tap on the bottom which was ideal for ‘tasting’. If the brew tastes sweet or like tea, it needs a bit longer. The longer you leave it, the more ‘tart’ or vinegary it will become. I left mine for 11 days but my recipe says it can be left for 21 days so I guess it’s a bit of trial and error to see how you like it.
7. When it’s ready, you just need to decant it into clean bottles or jars. I used old olive jars which are 1L capacity which I thought would be better than bottles because you can be sure they are properly clean.
8. At this stage you can add flavours to your brew. I added 3 lemon slices and 3 slices of fresh ginger into each jar but I think the options are limited only by your imagination. For my second batch, I added about a tablespoon of unsweetened blackcurrant juice to each litre of Kombucha and that was yum too…!!
9. You can drink your kombucha straight away or leave on the bench for another 1-3 days to help it fizz up. If you want fizz, fill your jars or bottles as high as possible so there isn’t much air. I did this as I wanted some fizz!!! Be aware though… you won’t get a really fizzy result like lemonade. It’s more what I would call, lightly carbonated.
10. When its ‘ready’ keep it in the fridge and enjoy!!
If you want to keep a fresh brew always on the go – do what I do. Before I start bottling I make a new tea so it is steeped, cooled and ready to go. As soon as my brew is bottled I simply lift out the SCOBY and starter, pour in the cooled tea, add the SCOBY and starter back in and voila. A new brew is on the go.
I’ve been enjoying a glass of Kombucha every day since I started brewing. It’s a really refreshing drink and I love knowing that it might be good for my health as well as offering some basic hydration!!!
Have you tried Kombucha yet… or thought about brewing your own…?? If so, I’d love to hear what flavours you enjoy and any tips you have to share about achieving the prefect brew X
Please Note: When brewing kombucha at home it is important to maintain a germ-free environment to avoid your brew becoming contaminated with unwanted fungus or bacteria. We recommend consulting your health professional before taking kombucha if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, have a weakened immune system or have any doubts whether kombucha is suitable for you.