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Plastic Free July Again

Plastic Free July Again

It’s been a year since we dabbled in Plastic Free July 2016 and now it’s upon us again.We’re happy to say that we have more enthusiasm to try it out again this year and are already well positioned in that many of our plastic-free habits have stayed with us since last year.

The biggest difference for us this year has been in going with a local fruit and veg seller who manages to remove all the packaging from his produce and will deliver to our home weekly. The other change we made is that we can purchase from a wholesale bulk foods distributor based in Macroom ( who carries everything you could want in large quantities.

For our first trial run, we bought:

25Kg of porridge oats (in a paper sack), 25Kg of puy lentils, 25Kg  of red lentils, 25Kg or brown rice, 20kg of raisins

This is just an experiment to see how well the stuff holds and how long it lasts. In some cases, the cost savings are not much, but the reduced packaging and time spent purchasing seem well worth the effort. We are also still buying bulk nuts from, although haven’t convinced those guys to try removing the plastic from their supplies.

Sigh…only to have a bulk food store locally…we think this would really work as a business, but so far it hasn’t happened yet as far as we know.

This year rather than just try harder to keep the single-use plastic out of the house, we are setting a couple of specific goals for ourselves during the month.

  • Get self-sufficient on milk alternatives
  • Find other options for laundry detergent and toothpaste

As we have moved away mostly but not completely from cow’s milk, for health reasons, we have started buying more and more of the expensive non-dairy options, such as soya milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, and my personal favorite, a coconut and almond milk blend. Lots of options to choose from and they are quite expensive to buy (€2 to €2.6 per litre), not to mention all the tetra packaging that goes with them.

What’s more shocking about these milk alternatives, is that many of them use minuscule amounts of the main ingredient (2-5%!!) and most of what you are buying is water with some sweetener and stabilizers added. Once you spot this on the pack ingredients, the idea of making you own is a lot more palatable.

And none of them are hard to make, although they can be a little time consuming. But in each case we’ve tried so far, they taste better than the store-bought options.

We opted for an easy start with coconut milk. Our first experiment used a can of light coconut milk we happened to have. One recipe looked particularly simple and called for just diluting a can with 2 cans of water and adding salt and vanilla flavoring to taste. It was quite palatable – certainly no worse than the market bought versions. The preferred method for this is to soak shredded coconut, rather than starting with the canned milk, which tends to have water and other stuff added to start with.

Then we tried almond milk – letting a cup of almonds sit for 2 days in the fridge in water to allow them to soak and release an acid that is best removed. Then they were drained and rinsed, fresh water was added (2 cups for 1 cup of nuts) and blended at high speed. Some sweeteners of choice can be added to flavor, such as honey, vanilla or even dates blended in. This one worked really well and got the thumbs up from the kids.

The coconut milk didn’t get much support, but then neither did the shop bought stuff either.

Rice milk is a little more time consuming to make. It requires you to boil the rice in advance and then use the rice to blend with water. Then add vanilla or cinnamon to taste as usual. Not that hard and quite tasty too.

For now we’re going with almond milk in quantity to see if we can get into the habit of making do with it. Apparently it should last for a few days in the fridge, so reasonably sized batches will work

For our #2 goal this time round, we recently attended a “Zero Waste” event in Dublin and managed to source some options for laundry detergent and toothpaste. The detergent is apparently condensed soap shavings which can be used to dilute into detergent of varying strength. Rather ambitiously, the two jars (reused also) we bought should apparently last for a year. We’re a little skeptical but getting ready to try it out.

For the toothpaste, we bought some dry powdery “stuff” – a sort of clay with all sorts of healthy things added in apparently. I think its Bentonite clay – at least I hope it is – which has excellent absorbing properties, presumably absorbing stuff that you don’t want on your teeth. The idea is to add a little powder to the wet toothbrush and the particles of clay will do the cleaning job as you scrub without damaging tooth enamel. The other natural ingredients serve to fight bacteria. So far we have noticed that one’s teeth do feel very clean after using it, but I for one miss that minty fresh taste you get from standard pastes. The jury is still out on this stuff for now – one for and one against.

So we have mostly removed the plastic from our food supplies by now, but WOW does it spread around the house through other means when you’re not paying attention! Having children makes this so much harder as much of what seems to come their way is made of plastic and has a very short lifespan.

Also, changing topics, our Poly-tunnel is finally up and running now so we’ll let you know how that’s working out in the next update.

Our Polytunnel Experiment

Our Polytunnel Experiment

No self-respecting self sufficiency enthusiast should be without a polytunnel for some amped up veggie growing. Being able to produce your own veggies at home brings satisfaction for all sorts of reasons: providing for your family, true organic food, experimenting with stuff. This is assuming that one is able to get the stuff to grow. But that’s not our concern yet. Firstly we needed to build the tunnel and so we started some research into ways to make your own.

Having read through many diy descriptions, we opted to go for a design that uses polythene piping to make the arches. In the description we were following most closely, 2” diameter black polythene water pipe was used. For some reason we couldn’t source this so instead opted for ESB ducting, which comes in a nice 50m roll for about Euros80, and is widely available. Next up we needed some steel pipe that would be hammered into the ground to act as anchor points for the poly pipe arches. This steel pipe needs to fit inside the poly pipe. So we used 1” galvanised pipe which although it didn’t give a snug fit with the ducting, the result was still secure once the ducting was pushed down over the 3ft or so of steel above ground. We had hoped to make 7 arches at 4ft spacing, giving a 24ft long tunnel, but measuring the coiled ducting accurately proved to be difficult and so when it came to the last arch, we were short. So we have 6 arches at 4ft spacing for a 20ft long tunnel. The 7.5 meter arch span gave us an 11ft wide tunnel with a good high headspace (8.5ft).That’s still a lot of room for veggies (if they grow)! You’ll notice the sloping end wall at one end. That was simply an effort to add a little more floor area inside without the additional arch.

We visited some neighbors who are polytunnel pro’s to get their advice and experience.It seems that good ventilation is very important to get right. we were told It can be helped by ensuring you have a tall tunnel (with openings at either end). Hence the 8.5 ft height. The plan was to have a regular half door at one end, top half to be left open as a vent. While the other end was to have a tiltable vent or similar area. You can see the size of this vent are in the lower end in the images above. Hopefully this would be enough.

Next we went with some 4×2 pressure treated timber to use for the base rail to which the polythene would be attached as well as for the end structures to form the door and vents. Some 2×1 lengths were used to link the arches together and add rigidity to the structure. It seems that used scaffold boards are a nice and cheap way to do the base rail and provide a large area to attach the polythene too, but try as we could we weren’t able to find a local source at a reasonable price. It seems that many people are finding many uses for the surplus of scaffold boards that used to be around, and so they are now becoming a much sought after commodity for diy projects. An alternate design to the use of timber baserails, is to dig a trench all around the tunnel and bury the end of the polythene under a 1ft depth of soil. With the recent dry weather we’d been having, we figured this would be back breaking so at additional expense and less ideally we went with new 4×2 lengths.

While the structure was still being built….it is taking a while as there seems to be so much other stuff going on now with the fine summer weather…we ordered the polythene cover online from this company (

An 11m by 8.75m section of 800g material we were told would be ample for our needs. We also ordered some heat tape, which is recommended for areas where the polythene touches metal or anything rough. The metal will get hot and damage the integrity of the polythene over time while any rough areas will obviously cause risk of tearing.The order arrived within a few days and is sitting waiting…

Our materials costs were as follows:

Steel pipe sections to hold up red pipe arches = €60

red ducting :€88

Timber (4x2s (10) + 2x1s (10)) = €140

polythene + heat tape = €170

total = €460;

Its a little more than I had expected for such a structure. While we are estimating that an equivalent kit purchased and delivered would cost at least twice that amount which is somewhat consoling, the labour time involved in building this so far has been significant. However there is plenty of satisfaction in taking on projects such as this yourself if you have the time to spend on it, so factoring in financial and time costs, is it still worth it?


We hope to have at least the structure completed by the next blog update, even if the growing hasn’t kicked off. There is a healthy crop of tomatoes sitting in pots waiting for their new home and a chance to thrive in our new tunnel so time is becoming of the essence. We are a little late for this years growing season, but hope to get some growing use from the tunnel this year.