Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Travels between two isles

Since 2020 has thwarted any latent travel plans, I'm taking the opportunity to reminisce about previous trips, by finally putting together some holiday photo albums, and by writing up some special travel experiences. 

Ever since moving to Malta in 2012, I had the dream to one day travel from my new adopted home island in the Mediterranean to my childhood home island in the North of the Netherlands, Texel, over sea and land instead of by plane. When planning a visit back home in August 2019 I decided to take off some days early to take the time to make this dream a reality. 

Part 1: Malta to Catania (Sicily) 

[Monday 19 August, departure from home at 02:45, ferry to Catania at 04:00, arrival in Catania around 11:00]

Malta is connected to Sicily by two ferry lines: the more well-known Virtu Ferries, a passenger and car ferry operating daily catamaran trips to Pozzallo in the Southeast of Sicily, and Grimaldi Lines, which operate a cargo ferry with some space for passengers that travels to Catania, on Sicily's East coast, and onwards to Salerno, near Naples. While the Virtu ferry offers a much faster trip (around 2.5 hours to Pozzallo) than the Grimaldi line (around 7.5 hours to Catania), in peak summer time I found the Virtu ferry to be too expensive, as a ticket was around €130 versus €30 for the Grimaldi one. I was also excited by the opportunity to try the Grimaldi ferry, as I had never travelled with them before, and arriving in Catania was also easier to catch an onward train, as the train connection from Pozzallo is pretty dismal. The downside was that the ferry was leaving at around 04:00 in the morning, and the final check-in time was 03:00. A nocturnal start to the journey it was. While the ferry does offer cabins, I didn't find it worth it for just a few hours, so I just had a nap on the floor of the cafeteria, as did some other cheapskates. I actually had my camping mat and a sheet with me as I was going on a camping trip in the Netherlands, so I was pretty comfortable. Once the sun rose and light trickled in through the windows, it was time for breakfast. The best thing about travelling on an Italian vessel? Even on board they sell the quintessential 'cafe cornetto' (a good espresso macchiato and the Italian version of a croissant). 

   

On the Grimaldi ferry from Malta to Catania 


Contrary to the rapid and sometimes rough ride with the Virtu catamaran, travelling with the Grimaldi ferry seemed like travelling yesteryear: moving at a snail's pace over the smooth August sea makes you feel like even time is slowing down. Nonetheless, after a few hours, the coastline of Catania and silhoutte of Mount Etna crept into sight and around 11:00 in the morning we embarked in the port of Catania. I had booked a room close to the port and the train station, as my train journey onwards would start the next morning. While I could have caught a train to Rome that same afternoon or evening I decided to wait until the next day for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to avoid missing the train due to any delays with the ferry, as that would mean missing all my connections and losing the full amount paid for the train tickets. Furthermore, I wanted to enjoy the train trip along the Calabrian coast in broad daylight, as I hadn't visited this Southern part of Italy before. Finally, while I have been to Catania on previous occassions, spending an afternoon in the city is always an enjoyable experience. I had a wonderful lunch at a vegetarian cafe La Cucina dei Colori and a stroll through the streets and the Villa Bellini park, before having a good night's sleep at B&B Sicilia Bedda Nice, with a beautiful pink Art Nouveau facade.


   

Arrival in the port of Catania // Villa Bellini park in Catania


Part 2: Catania to Rome and Milan 

[Tuesday 20 August, departure from Catania Centrale 08:41, to Rome Termini, to arrival in Milan around 22:00]

After a quick breakfast at the train station I found my seat on the first train of the day, from Catania to Rome (travel time around 8 hours). I was happy that I bought some snacks and drinks in Catania to take with me, as contrary to what I would have expected, there seemed to be no catering carriage on this train. The trip started off with some hilarity, as the father of a young couple had come on board to help them with their luggages, but didn't manage to get off in time before the whistle and ended up on the train without a ticket, leaving behind his wife on the platform. Catania's train station is right by the sea, and the views were beautiful right from very beginning: the bright blue Mediterranean waters on one side, the historic city and smoking Mount Etna and her foothills on the other. 


   

Departure from Catania Centrale // Smoke from Mount Etna in the distance 

By mid morning we had reached Messina, on the Northeast point of Sicily. The island is not connected to the Italian mainland via a bridge or tunnel, but they have come up with an ingenious way to continue the train journey: the train is split in two and boarded on a ferry, which carries train and passengers across the strait to Villa San Giovanni. The crossing is a perfect moment to stretch your legs, get a coffee from the ferry canteen and enjoy the breeze and view from the deck. 


   

A window seat with a view // Train on ferry between Messina and Calabria


Upon arrival in Villa San Giovanni there was some commotion in my train compartment, as it appeared something was stolen from someone's luggage while most passengers had left the train to enjoy the fresh air on the ferry. We waited more than half an hour for the carabinieri to arrive. With no ventilation on and people's nerves rising, the carriage quickly turned into a sweaty and stuffy mess. Thankfully, the police found the culprit, the item was returned to its rightful owner, and we were on our way once again. Once the engine started, so did the air-conditioning and the relaxed mood was restored. The train was very comfortable and had an extendable table, perfect for a book, snack and bottle of water. I also managed to get a few hours of work done on my laptop, as I was preparing a presentation for a conference later that month. There was even electricity, so lack of battery was not an issue. Distraction provided by the magnificent green and blue Calabrian landscapes floating past is another story. 


   

Ever-changing landscapes means you never get bored on the train


   

There was even enough space to get some work done // The green hills of Calabria


At around 18:30 we arrived at Rome's Termini station. With a little over half an hour remaining to change to the next train to Milan, I found just enough time for a plate of pasta as an early dinner, before continuing the journey. The high speed train to Milan reached a top speed of around 250km/h! In less than 3 hours I set foot in the beautiful central station of Milan. With an hour to go before my nighttrain to Paris, I stepped out into the fresh evening air and enjoyed a beer with a view of the wonderful station entrance. 


   

Arrival at Rome's Termini station // High speed train to Milan


   

Sunset from the train somewhere in Tuscany // Milan's beautiful station hall


Part 3: Milan to Paris 

[Tuesday 20 August, departure from Milan at 23:10, arrival in Paris Gare de Lyon on Wednesday 21 August sometime mid-morning]

From Milan I was taking the Thello nighttrain to Paris, in which I had booked a seat in a 6-bed couchette compartment. I absolutely love travelling on nighttrains: the old-world charm that the compartments exude, the ingenuity of the mechanisms and design, turning a six-seater compartment into a bedroom for as many people within a few minutes, and the coziness of sharing such a communal space with people who were strangers just an hour ago. As the train left at 23:10 at night, once we boarded the train and organized our luggage, it was time for bed. I find that with a few small travel aids (earplugs and an eye-mask) I can sleep remarkably well and and was soon rocked to sleep by the train's movement. 

Not the whole night was peaceful though. We were woken up in the early morning by the border patrol for a passport check, which took forever and was accompanied by a lot of noise. We ended up spending around 2 hours at the border until everyone was cleared and we could continue the journey. I tried to sleep a bit more, as it was still dark outside, and I finally woke up as we rolled into Dijon. Because of the time spent stuck at the border we had built up quite a delay and people were getting nervous about arriving late for their connecting trains, trying to calculate how much time they had left and whether they would make it. I was lucky that in the original itinerary I had quite a generous layover in Paris, but I still had to travel from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord to make it to my connecting in train in time, so I was also a bit worried. However, as there was nothing to do about it at that time, I enjoyed my breakfast in the catering coupe, watching the mist lift off the green fields of France's heartland and birds on the river bank alongside the traintracks. When we arrived in Paris, I had about 40 minutes to change stations and catch my next train, the Thalys that would take me to Amsterdam. I had looked up which metro I should take while I was on the train and quickly made my way. Thankfully all went well and I could immediately join the queue to start boarding the train. 


   

Breakfast view from the train // A quick snap of Gare du Nord before boarding the Thalys


Part 4: Paris to Amsterdam

[Wednesday 21 August, departure from Paris Gare du Nord at 11:25, arrival in Amsterdam at 14:44]

Once seated on the Thalys, I could breathe a sigh of relief. This was the final pre-booked train ticket I had gotten, so from here onwards there was no more worry about making a connection or not. For the final stretch from Amsterdam to Texel I would be travelling on the regular train network in the Netherlands, with a train leaving every 30 minutes. The flatter landscapes around me were now more and more familiar, large rolls of harvested grain on the pastures and open skies dotted with white clouds. Once I had seen enough of that, there was Murakami to keep me company. 

   

Late summer landscape of Northern France // Plenty of time to enjoy a good book


   


Characteristic yellow and blue trains and windmills can mean only one thing: arrived in the Netherlands!


Part 5: Amsterdam to Texel

[Wednesday 21 August, departure from Amsterdam at 15:39, arrival on Texel at 17:50]

The last leg of the trip was a journey I have already made countless times. I took the next train from Amsterdam to Den Helder, from there the bus to the harbour and then, finally, the ferry to Texel. After the short 20 minute ferry ride I arrived on my home island and could see my parents waving from the shore :) 


   

Waiting for the last train at Amsterdam Centraal // Waiting for the bus in Den Helder

   

Celebrating with a classic Texel beer // Arrival in the harbour of Texel


The experience

I have always loved travelling by train and ferry. I think back with happy memories to my student days when I made many European trips over land and sea. To Trondheim in Norway: by nighttrain from Utrecht to Copenhagen, then on to Goteborg, Oslo and finally Trondheim. Sharing beers with strangers on the nighttrain, catching up with a friend in Copenhagen over coffee in the morning during the layover, leaving Oslo at nightfall and riding into the light again where the midnight sun shines in the long days of June. To the south of Spain: catching glimpses of street life in Paris and Madrid while changing trains and seeing the verdant plains and hills of France make way for the olive and citrus gardens of Spain. Then there was a memorable holiday in Greece, characterised by slow travel on numerous ferries from the main port of Piraeus to different islands in the Aegean, experiencing quiet and quaint island life from the deck and gliding over sea at night during the Perseids meteor shower. 

There's something about travelling by train and ferry, the slowing down of time, the relative confinement, seeing the landscape change, experiencing the different light of day and the ever-changing vistas. It is no wonder that numerous travel books have been written about epic train and boat journeys, but none about those same trips by airplane (at least, as far as I'm aware!).

Recent years have seen increased global awareness about climate change, including for our contribution as individuals, with ever increasing travel by plane, for weekend trips, to conferences, on far-away holidays. As someone educated in environmental science and an environmentalist at heart, this leads to quite some inner turmoil and guilt any time I want to visit friends or family back home, pursue professional or educational opportunities abroad, or simply want to explore more of our beautiful planet. This year, thinking about travelling has taken on a whole other meaning, and many people are deciding not to travel at all because of the spread of the coronavirus. However, I hope that once the virus is under control and we can travel more freely once again, we consider opting for more sustainable modes, rather than catching a quick flight whenever and wherever we can. After years of diminishing train connections and disappearing nighttrains, there is now a resurgence in investment in the international train network. The 'Back on Track' network campaigns for European cross-border rail connections and night trains. They demand that instead of bailing out airlines, we should invest in the train network as a sustainable alternative. If we make train trips better connected and more affordable, they can be a wonderful way to travel throughout Europe. You can travel from the heart of major cities, while seated comfortably, being able to work, read or listen to music, or simply enjoy the view. Speaking of islands, there is a need to better integrate the existing (and new?) ferry connections with the rail network. Also, as it stands, most ferries still run on fossil fuels. However, there are some exciting pilot projects being run with electric ferries, such as e-ferry Ellen from Denmark. 

I look forward to travelling again, especially if it is by train and ferry! 


Handy links to plan travel by train and ferry:

Ferry connections between Malta and Sicily (and other Mediterranean destinations): 

To plan a cross-country traintrip in Europe: 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Homemade Calendula salve

Last year I received some calendula (also known as pot marigold) seeds from a friend, and decided to plant them at our fields. These bright, happy yellow and orange flowers do extremely well in our sunny Mediterranean climate, and they've added such nice colour to our garden, and are also a very welcome source of food for the local bees. 



Calendula flowers and little visitors in our garden

Calendula flowers are a useful flower to grow in the garden for further reasons though. The flower petals can be eaten, and can be used for example to garnish salads or cakes. They can be also be dried and then infused in oil, to be made into creams or salves. Calendula tinctures have a rich history, as its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and usefulness in treating dermatological issues have been known for a long time (something which today also has been shown by scientists in the lab). 



Calendula flowers come in a variety of shades of yellow and orange

As our calendula beds burst into flower, I decided to harvest around 30 flower heads for drying and salve making, and thought I'd share the process here. If you're interested in making some of your own and would like to get your hands on some calendula seeds, let me know as I've got plenty :) 

Calendula salve

Ingredients: 
- around 30 calendula flower heads 
- 250ml carrier oil (safe for skin), such as olive oil or sweet almond oil
- 110g beeswax 

Cut off around 30 calendula flowers. Leave the flower heads to dry on some tissue paper in a dry and sunny place for about 2 weeks. Turn them around every so often to ensure drying throughout and to prevent any mold from developing. 



Drying the calendula flowers

Once the petals are paperdry, pluck them off the flowerheads, and place in a clean and dry glass jar fitting around 250-300ml. To infuse the petals, they need to soak in a carrier oil that is safe for use on skin. Olive oil or sweet almond oil, or a mix of those, are good choices. The petals will need to sit in the oil for a few weeks. Place the jar with infused oil in a dark and dry place. 



Dried calendula flowers

Once the calendula oil infusion is ready, place a strainer over a glass bowl and strain out the petals, so that you end up with the infused oil. 

To make the salve you will need to add beeswax to the infused oil. I managed to get my hands on some beeswax from one of the local beekeepers I visited during a recent beekeeping course organised by Friends of the Earth Malta. 


Locally sourced beeswax 

Place the bowl with the infused oil over a small pot with simmering water to heat up the oil au bain-marie, Banju Marija in Maltese :) 

Chop the beeswax into smaller pieces and add to the bowl. Stir occassionally until all the beeswax has dissolved in the oil. 


Au bain-marie melting the beeswax in the oil 

Once the beeswax has dissolved completely in the infused oil, add the mix to a heatproof glass or earthenware container with a spout, so that you can easily pour the hot mix into clean and dry glass jars for storing the salve. 


Carefully pouring the hot calendula oil and beeswax mixture into glass jars

Wait until the mixture cools down completely and turns a lovely golden colour, et voila, your calendula salve is ready! The salve is great for everyday use to remedy dry skin, or to aid healing of minor cuts and burns. 




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Plastic free on the go

After the first week of our Plastic Free October experiment - which for me was the hardest, as it meant figuring out so many things: where to buy something from, how to find an alternative, how to make it myself - we got the hang of our newly adopted plastic free lifestyle, at home at least. However, we are often on the go: at work, travelling or meeting friends for food or drinks, and this of course adds other challenges into the mix! That’s why I thought I’d share a bit about my experiences with preparing for those moments, as well as a few failures ;)

Preparation is key

On work days there are a few items that I will always carry with me: my water bottle, tupperware for food, and my own cutlery. I usually try to bring my own lunch to work, and take it with me in a tupperware, as well as cutlery and a plate if needed (or I use some from the nearby kitchenette). I try to also keep some snacks on my desk for those mid-morning or mid-afternoon hunger pangs, such as crackers with hummus or ajvar, and I usually bring a small box of nuts and some fruit with me from home (for bananas I even have a banana box protector case, so as to avoid those dreaded squashed-banana-bag-situations, you know what I mean!). In the case of emergency hunger attacks, the university canteen also offers some unpackaged snacks: cookies or Oh So Yummy bars (made with nuts and dried fruits). To make coffee in the office I use a French press, which is made with just the ground coffee and water. The coffee I buy in bulk (see previous blogpost) and bring in a glass jar to work. I keep a mug for tea and coffee at my desk, and also have a reusable coffee cup, in case I want to buy some coffee for take away from a cafe nearby or when I’m out for meetings or running errands.



Snack provisions for during the day: fruit, nuts & crackers with spread


Some days I don’t manage to prepare my own lunch, and on those occasions I usually buy something from the university canteen, the Food Faculty, or another cafe around university. At the canteen they usually serve everything in take-away boxes and with disposable cutlery. I always ask for my food on a plate and with real cutlery, and although I’m happy to report they always provide me with these on request, I think it is very sad to see the wastefulness of their operation. I sent them an email to ask why they cannot offer their food served on a normal plate with cutlery to everyone, and they replied saying that they are “mainly focused on a take-away / grab and go concept”. However, many students do not take their food away, but eat it directly then and there in the canteen. The Food Faculty staff did state that they “will definitely look into this and see whether we can have crockery and cutlery available for any customers wishing to use that rather than disposable”, which they have not done so far (2 weeks later), so I will follow this up and see if there are perhaps any students groups (KSU, Y4TE?) who want to collaborate to put some pressure on them.  

I take any waste I create at work or during the day home with me, usually in the tupperware container I have in my bag anyway (organic waste & paper to compost in our compost bin, glass waste to wash and reuse, or recycle).



Reusable coffee cup for take away coffee and French press and coffee supply 


My trusty Dopper water bottle 
As I explained in my first blogpost about our plastic free month, water is a tricky one in Malta. In October it is generally still very hot, so I usually drink 2 to 3 liter of water a day, and if you’re out all day that puts considerable strain on your back, or alternatively, you need to plan for how you will refill your bottle. Unfortunately, this is not so straight forward (yet!) in Malta, seeing as the water from the tap is not really palatable. At university there are some public refill stations, where you can fill up your bottle or drink straight from the fountain. Alternatively, I’ve asked at restaurants/cafe’s if I can refill my water bottle from their bulk drinking water source against a small payment (depending on the establishment this could be from their own Reverse Osmosis system, such as at The Grassy Hopper, or from large 19L H20 bottles, which many places use for their own use, for making tea/coffee or for their employees). In my opinion, installing more public drinking water sources and refilling stations (and simultaneously encouraging people to bring refillable water bottles) could be a great and easy way to reduce small plastic bottle use, seeing as locally many people buy several bottles a day, creating a huge amount of plastic waste that can be easily avoided.

Practice makes perfect

A lesson learned is how important it is to always keep in mind to think what could come with plastic when eating or drinking out, and to remember to ask for straws/plastic cutlery/cookies wrapped in plastic to be omitted from your order. I made a few small mistakes there unfortunately. For example, one day last weekend I was out with a friend and too caught up in conversation to notice that the iced coffee I ordered would come with a straw, and then the same thing happened later that day while ordering a juice… not my finest moments this month! There are also still some products I haven’t replaced yet, especially products I don’t use very often or a lot of, such as make-up. On a particular day this month I was feeling guilty about this, but then later realised that ultimately this is an experiment, I have to accept that it is not going to be perfect from the start, and there is no need to change everything all at once; it’s a process we’re going through and trying out, and this is only the start of a constant quest of looking for alternatives and ways to reduce waste. On the other hand, I am happy to report that we really have hardly created any waste this month! Most of the packaging waste we created was paper, which we tear up and add to our compost heap, and glass jars, which for the most part we wash and reuse at home. There have been some aluminium cans and some glossy paper (newspaper magazines for example) that still go with the recycling waste, and some glass bottles that we recycle separately, but that’s about it!

I am aware that most of my reusable containers (for example, my water bottle, banana box and tupperware) are made of plastic. The purpose of this experiment was to cut out single use plastic, and in terms of reusable items I am using what I already owned. However, there are many more sustainable and hard-wearing options available (e.g. stainless steel, glass or ceramic options) that I would certainly opt for if I were to replace any of the items I already have. From my research I found for example the following options:

Thanks for reading! I’m hoping to wrap up the experiment with a final blogpost next week with some reflections on this month, and looking forward to the future to see what changes we are planning to make permanently :)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Plastic Free October

A few weeks ago I took part in the National Cleanup Day in Malta. In one morning, more than 1300 people at different locations all over the Maltese islands picked up a whopping 2200 bags of garbage, of which more than 25% constituted plastic waste.


Inspired by this cleanup and the undiminishing stream of news about microplastics being found in our food and drinking water sources, I wanted to try for myself if it is possible to live a plastic free life in Malta. On October 1st I started a month long experiment: an attempt to live without single-use plastics (plastic bottles, packaging, wrappers, Tetra-Pak, etc.), together with my husband Chris and with my colleagues at Friends of the Earth Malta.


We started preparing in the weeks before, making a list of things we use and for which we would need to find a plastic free alternative, and places from where to get these things, asking for help online and visiting different supermarkets and shops to see what they have on offer.  


Veggies & fruit
This was the easiest step for us, as we already tried to avoid plastic packaging around vegetables and fruit as much as possible. We bring our own shopping bags, and have reusable cloth produce bags that are handy for smaller fruits and veggies, such as tomatoes. We normally buy from our local greengrocer or for organic veggies we go to Hames Sensi in Fgura, our nearest organic shop. I’ve never had a problem upon refusing plastic bags, and I’m sure your local greengrocer will quickly get used to your quirky behaviour :)


Grains and pasta
It took some running up and down the supermarket aisles and exasperation at the tiny plastic windows in most grain packaging, but actually there is quite a good selection of grains and pasta available in the supermarket. I’ve found different types of pasta, rice and couscous packed just in cardboard.

 

Examples of plastic free grains & pasta found at PAVI in Qormi
The health food section at PAVI in Qormi has a pretty wide selection of bulk products that they sell by weight from large containers. I found oats, quinoa and barley, which are bought in bulk paper bags by the store. I brought my own reusable cloth bags and the shop assistant was happy to use those and fill them for me. Their standard however is to fill single use plastic bags, a bit of a missed chance with the set up they have.


Using cloth bags to fill from bulk containers 


Nuts, seeds, legumes & dried fruit
In the same section they also sell other bulk products, such as dried beans (lentils, chickpeas, black beans, split peas, etc), dried fruits (raisins, dates, apricots, etc.), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseed, chia seed, etc.), and a variety of nuts (raw nuts such as cashews and brazil nuts, but also spicy nut mixes for snacking).



Chickpeas, oats, coconut, sunflower seeds, linseeds, cashews, cacao nibs and raising bought in bulk (from PAVI health food store and Theobroma - Raw Cacao Collective) 



Coffee & tea
A category of its own in my books :) For coffee I went to my favourite little coffee shop in ─Žamrun: C&M Borg (you can follow your nose to find it!). They have a nice selection of coffee beans (including an organic & fair trade variety) and can grind it for you then and there. The shop owner was happy to put my freshly ground coffee directly in the glass jars I had brought for the purpose. They also sell spices and nuts in bulk. For tea we’ve been drinking a lot of fresh mint tea as we have some prolific growing mint in the garden (and it’s delicious), but there are also boxes of tea that are just cardboard.


Dairy & eggs
For a while now we’ve been ordering some products from Barbuto, a company bringing organic Sicilian produce to Malta. We like to buy their eggs, which come in recyclable cardboard cartons, and yoghurt, which is my favourite so far available in Malta and comes in glass jars, which have also been put to good (re)use to hold nuts and seeds that I’ve bought in bulk. We’re buying cheese from one of our neighbourhood shops and bring our own container and ask them to place it directly in there. So far, so good, but I have a feeling this will be easier to do in a small shop, I think they might not allow it in a larger supermarket. In terms of milk we usually go for plant-based milks (oat, rice, coconut) but this has proven to be one of the more difficult things to replace as they all come in plastic lined Tetra Pak. Now that I have found a good place to buy oats in bulk, I’m going to try to make my own oat milk. I will report back about my experiences with that later this month!



Organic eggs in recycled cardboard cartons from Barbuto


Bread & crackers (and cookies!)
We have been baking our own bread on and off for some years. We have a breadmaking machine at home and it is actually so easy to make your own bread on a day to day basis. Once you get the hang of it you put all the ingredients together in less than 5 minutes, and if you use the timer, the bread will bake overnight and you wake up with the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread in the morning! Flour is easily found in paper bags. It is however also perfectly possible to buy fresh bread from a baker by bringing your own bag or using a paper bag. I love to have a crackers as a snack with some hummus or cheese. This proved to be a tricky one! All crackers seemed to come in multiple layers of plastic packaging. I finally managed to find one brand that is just packaged in paper: Wasa whole grain crackers (found at PAVI in Qormi).


Wasa crackers wrapped in paper


Of course at some point during the week we craved for a snack, so I cooked up a plastic free cookie recipe, with wholemeal flour, oats, cacao powder, cacao nibs, cashews, coconut flakes, sugar and coconut oil (you can find the full recipe below).


Water
This is a tricky one in Malta. Tap water is technically drinkable, but not very palatable. We normally use a Brita filter (activated charcoal filter that removes chlorine and reduces the hardness of the water), but the filter has to be changed once a month, and is made of plastic, and comes in plastic packaging. Alternatives are getting large 19L water bottles delivered at home, and although they are made of hard plastic and are reused, they still come with a disposable plastic cover. What would be the best is getting a reverse osmosis tap installed at home, but seeing as we rent, this is not really an option for us. We’re going to accept the small amount of plastic waste, and stick with our Brita for now.


Bathroom products
We are using solid shampoo (mine is coconut based and comes from Lush, and Chris got one with mint and green tea from our local Soap Cafe in Sliema). We’re using a bar soap for washing bodies and hands. We bought bamboo toothbrushes from Bam & Boo, which are made of bamboo and are packaged in compostable packaging. Unfortunately they do have to use nylon for the actual brushes, as in their words “the only 100% biodegradable option is pig hair, which is a very controversial material” (https://thebamandboo.com/pages/faq). Another difficult one was toilet paper, although it is paper in itself (and thus no problem) it seems to always come in plastic packaging! After some searching I managed to find an ecological brand that has compostable packaging. I just tore up the first packaging and added it to our compost heap, and am curious how long it will take to break down. Most household cleaning we do with simple vinegar and baking soda, which can be found in glass bottles and cardboard boxes respectively. We always use Earth Friendly dishwashing and laundry liquid from Core Green, and we have been informed that we can take them to be refilled once they’re empty, so although the containers are still plastic, they are hardwearing and will be reused. There are some other personal care products that we still need find an alternative for, such as toothpaste. In the coming weeks I am planning to try to source some ingredients to experiment with making some of my own personal care products from bulk products.


Toilet paper wrapped in compostable packaging


I never expected this experiment to go perfectly, at least not immediately. One week in, I’ve made a few mistakes, such as forgetting to tell a bartender to omit a straw in my drink, and ordering a bottle of water at a restaurant only then to realise they serve in plastic bottles and not in glass as in most establishments.



Our plastic waste from week 1: 2 straws, 1 plastic water bottle, 1 cap of bouillon powder and 1 plastic wrapper of cheese (gifted by friends who were not yet aware of our experiment :))


I am looking forward to trying out new things next week and would love to hear your thoughts, and whether you have any tips or questions! Thanks for reading!



Plastic free cookies


  • 200g wholemeal flour
  • 200g oats
  • 150 ml coconut oil
  • 100g desiccated coconut
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp linseed (ground up in coffee grinder)
  • 3 tbsp cashews (chopped roughly)
  • 6 tbsp cacao powder
  • 4 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • ½ - 1 cup water


Mix all the dry ingredients together. Melt the coconut oil in a double boiler (au bain marie). Mix the coconut oil in, and add water until reaching a thick, doughy consistency. Make small balls and press flat on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet (or even better, a reusable baking mat). Bake at 175 C for 10-15 minutes.