Product review: agreena 3 in 1 wrap

Agreena (as in www.agreena.world, heh) started out as a Kickstarter campaign which I backed a few months ago. I just received and tried out my set, and was keen to share my experience.

Agreena wrap is a set of silicone sheets made to replace the kitchen trio of cling film, aluminium foil and baking sheets. They can be washed and reused over and over, and are ultimately recyclable, making this a buy-me-once product if well taken care of (keep away from blades and pointy things; beware sugars and acids, which can affect it; don’t bake above 240ºC, which is higher than any temperature I’ve ever used for cooking, myself). The appeal is obvious: other than the sheer expense of the other three products, there are urgent environmental reasons to avoid them:

  • Cling film is that monstrosity, single-use disposable plastic, and a dreadful contributor to the ongoing plastic crisis. It leaches contaminants into your food while you use it, and into nature when you dispose of it. It’s neither resuable nor recyclable, and like most plastic litter, will outlive our grandchildren. The frankly dangerous “metal teeth of death” on the side of cling film packages are also non-recyclable.
  • Aluminium is so resource-intensive and poisonous to extract as an ore, it’s inexcusable that we use it in disposable products such as foil. It too contains neurotoxins that leach into your food, then goes on to poison the land for centuries before breaking down.
  • As for baking paper or parchment, setting aside the fact that we can’t get complacent about a material that costs trees (each of which is home to an entire community), it is coated in substances that are toxic at high temperatures or when burnt.

There are other alternatives to cling film around, notably Beeswrap which I already use. But such waxed cloth, though it has the bonus of being easy to make at home, cannot withstand heat or be washed with hot water; it also needs to be replaced or re-waxed after a certain number of used. So it’s not as versatile nor as long-lasting (nor is it acceptable to vegans), though by all means a great product in its own way.

I was therefore really interested in agreena, and have finally been able to test it.

agreena1

My order arrived in a cardboard mailing box that was cleverly designed to only require one short strip of plastic tape. I’d have preferred no tape myself (I use gummed paper tape for everything), but appreciate the efforts to minimize it, and the box is highly reusable.

agreena3

The recycled paper-only packaging inside looked like good news, but I was less than enchanted to see the wraps backed with rigid plastic sheets. The leaflet inside explained that they were necessary “to keep the product safe and protected”, and that the plastic was recyclable. Hmm. Was there really nothing else that would do? Compostable bioplastic, maybe? But this is the very first incarnation of this product and I suspect the makers will be open to feedback and improvement, so I’m not holding that against them at this point. I had a rather more severe shock when I tried to separate the sheets and they were severely stuck together, seemingly fused. I had to forcefully pull them apart, and was convinced my wraps were torn or stretched beyond repair right out of the box.

agreena2

Yikes!!

Amazingly enough, the mistreatment did absolutely nothing to the sheets. As soon as they were pulled off their backing, all apparent damage was completely smoothed away. The material is remarkable, incredibly thin, and yet obviously very resilient. Despite warnings that the sheets may be extra sticky and tricky to use the first couple of times, I didn’t have too much trouble. I slapped a large one on my counter and started rolling dough over it. Though the wrap had a firm grip on the counter while I was working, it didn’t cling to it, so repositioning and eventually moving the lot to a baking sheet was really easy. The square format is a break-through as far as I’m concerned, much easier to work with than the usual rectangles.

agreena4

Once out of the oven, the baked dough came away from the wrap beautifully, and this is the first time I can wrap my food in the very sheet I baked it on, thanks to how fine the material is. I can see why it would work so well to wrap food!

agreena5

Here’s a smaller sheet sealing a bowl of stock. Very satisfying, and apparently the wrap, while waterproof, is breathable. The makers provide several video how-tos to show various ways of using it.

agreena6

Washing was the easiest thing, requiring only swishing them around in very hot soapy water (something I always long to do with Beeswrap, but can’t). It’s only when putting them to dry that the extra-stickiness made itself felt, but I got them to behave soon enough. (To be clear, the silicone sticks to itself, not to anything else.)

agreena7

For storage, I’m just folding them up and storing them somewhere safe from vagrant crumbs and other food particles. They take absolutely no space.

agreena8

Based on my experience, would I recommend agreena 3 in 1 wrap? Absolutely:

  • This may genuinely be “the last wrap you’ll ever need to buy”. We really need to foster a culture of “buy-me once” to replace our insane cult of the disposable.
  • Past the not-so-great inclusion of plastic in the packaging (that I hope will be rectified in future), these are assets to a zerowaster.
  • The material is made of the same rubber as infant and medical products, is food-safe, will not release odours into your food or absorb them from things like onions.
  • A percentage of every sale goes to support climate protection projects.
  • This is not a corporate product but the work of a small dedicated team: “We are not the first, we are but part of a growing movement of individuals, organisations and businesses that believe that small changes will make a world of difference and we are committed to people and the planet at every turn in the decision-making process.”
  • There is a “Return 2 Recycle Reward” program to ensure no damaged wraps go to landfill.
  • And more good reasons explained on the website!

Find out more on https://www.agreena.world , where discounted pre-orders are open till August.

Foraging: Hawthorn

Please refer to the main Foraging page for ethics and more resources. Feel free to print this image for your private use.

hawthorn

For more details about Hawthorn’s benefits, see Herbal Wisdom.

What to make of it

  • The haws are very high in pectin and can be made into a jelly to accompany cheese or meat, without any boiling. They can be dried to make herbal tea, are used for various drinks (haw brandy, wine, or liquor below), and pulped for integrating to other recipes.
  • The easiest way to remove the stems is to roll a bunch of haws between your hands.
  • Young leaves make a nice addition to salad, with a nutty taste and heart-tonic properties.
  • The blossoms can also be eaten raw, sprinkled on salads or desserts. They can also be dried for tea, or made into liquor or cordial. Contrary to the other parts of the plant, they have antispasmodic and sedative properties, so consume them separately from the leaves or haws.
  • Here are a few simple recipes to start with!
hawthorn-jelly

Based on Eat Weeds

Fruit leathers (or jerky) are an ancient method of preserving fruit flesh for long periods of time. They can be nibbled as snacks, or pieces cut off and added to porridge or other dishes. Since haws don’t have much taste, a couple of ways to sweeten the leather are suggested here.

hawthorn-leather

As with most fruit, hawthorn (both the haws and the blossoms) can be made into a liquor: alcohol extracts and preserves the fruit’s qualities and flavor.

hawthorn-liquor

Inspired by a traditional Lebanese recipe on Food Heritage Foundation

A non-alcoholic alternative is to make a syrup, which keeps a few weeks in the fridge and is diluted before drinking.

mayblossom-cordial

haw-ketchup

Based on Pocket Farm

Conversation with Ashleigh Brown on Land Regeneration

This series of conversations aims to highlight the efforts of various people who all share a commitment to the planet that they put into action, each in their own way and with a focus on a particular issue. There are more of us than we know!


I met Ashleigh Brown at my local food assembly, which she co-hosts. We quickly discovered we shared an active engagement for the planet.

ashleigh

You seem to be engaged on many levels. Tell us a bit about your background, how you arrived where you are now, the issues you care about.

I have been very lucky in my life that I have had the chance to visit so many places and properly fall in love with the natural world. My background is mainly in education, having been a teacher and then a teacher trainer and researcher, before moving into environmental work. I set up a local ecological food company with a close friend, committed myself to creating almost zero landfill waste, and now I am involved in running a cooperative that builds ecosystem restoration camps on degraded land.

Land regeneration seems to be your main focus right now; very recently you and 22 others planted 7000 trees on a piece of degraded farmland to create a new woodland, and you biked there to avoid any carbon emissions — how inspiring! Tell us more about your experience of land regeneration.

One of the best ways of sequestering carbon is through restoring degraded ecosystems by building living soils. Once I discovered this I set myself on a path to learn as much about this as possible. That is when I came across the work on John D.Liu and his films. I watched them all practically back to back and then decided this was the path that I wanted to go down in life. This is when I discovered the Ecosystem Restoration Cooperative in its initial stages, and so I joined the team. There are now nearly 900 people signed up, and we are preparing to build the first camp in southern Spain in the spring.

The reason that it matters so much is because land around the world is being degraded to the point where it is becoming barren and infertile. This is causing poverty and starvation, as well as fuelling migration to cities which can lead to conflict.

What the camps seek to do is to restore degraded ecosystems on a global scale by setting up temporary camps on the land and teaching people how to restore it.

Did you run into anything especially difficult, and how did you solve it?

Setting up and running an organisation that runs purely on volunteers that are spread all over the world is always going to be difficult. Also, we are attempting to operate in an entirely leaderless environment using multiple internet platforms. However, we have some very committed and experienced people in the team and we are working through these challenges and getting a lot done.

Where can someone find out more, and even sign up?

We now have a website which explains all about the project, including how it works and how people can get involved – www.ecosystemrestorationcamps.org

Do you have a hard-earned piece of advice for someone seriously considering it?

Come to the first camp! It will be a perfect place for anyone interested in land restoration to learn how to do it. Anyone is welcome. Also – subscribing to the sustainable design masterclass series of webinars is an excellent online learning resource that you can tuck in to whilst the first camp is being built. Also, getting involved in the tree planting days that are run by the Woodland Trust is another great way of getting your hands dirty.

Where do you live, and how is it there for the eco-minded, in terms of resources and in terms of people’s reactions?

I am from Hertfordshire and I am unfortunately in the minority in my home town. I do not have a car, and pointedly make an example by cycling around when everyone else is driving. Sometimes it can be pretty demoralising. However my family are making a real effort to be more eco-friendly so that is positive!

Is there a resource you particularly recommend, or an organization you particularly encourage us to support?

As mentioned above, the sustainable design masterclass is an excellent resource for learning all about regenerative design. In terms of organisations other than the Ecosystem Restoration Cooperative, I would recommend checking out Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe as organisations that are doing great work at returning degraded land back to nature. Permaculture design is a great tool for learning how to create food and ecosystems simultaneously, and permaculture design courses are easy to find.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Without functioning ecosystems we will struggle to survive. This is, quite possibly, the greatest work of our time.

Follow Ashleigh on Twitter.

Conversation with Jonathan Levy on Waste Reduction

This series of conversations aims to highlight the efforts of various people who all share a commitment to the planet that they put into action, each in their own way and with a focus on a particular issue. There are more of us than we know!


Jonathan Levy goes by the nickname “zero waste guy”. He caught my attention on Instagram with his educational posts on plastic and waste reduction, rooted in his personal experience.

jonathan-levy-picture

Tell us about your website, Zerowasteguy.com.

Zerowasteguy.com is my blog, but I am also in the process of integrating my consulting website, so that it will provide readers and potential clients, alike, a more comprehensive picture of the services I offer and the way I think. Many zero waste blogs focus on how-to content, which is helpful, but not for me. Instead I share my real-world observations of ways in which businesses, organizations and individuals can have large impacts with small changes.

You’re widely known as the “zero waste guy”, so there’s probably no need to ask you what issue is dearest to your heart. You say you grew up in a minimum waste lifestyle, but what was it that finally broke the camel’s back and made you fully commit to going Zero Waste, and in such an outspoken way?

I grew up in the Bay Area, which is generally known as a progressive and environmentally-friendly part of the country. I have memories as a child of sorting materials into several types. I don’t remember the specifics now, but I’m fairly certain there was a wheelie bin for trash and three smaller totes for recycling: cardboard, glass and plastic.

When I moved away to Southern California for college I was hit with culture shock: my dorm didn’t have a recycle bin. When I asked my RA (resident advisor) what was up, I was told, “They [the garbage company] recycle for you.” This was traumatic, at first, but over time I got used to it. Looking back down, that was probably the start of a slow environmental demise.

But, to answer your question! In 2012 I took a job with one of America’s largest retailers for all the wrong reasons. It paid well and was a step up, but I learned quickly that it just was not for me. I found myself in a warehouse for 12 hours per day supervising the mechanics and maintenance workers who were responsible for keeping the building running. I felt inundated with disposable and other single-use items on a daily basis. It drove me crazy. After only nine months I quit to travel Europe to learn more about myself, but also to see what Europe was doing right when it came to sustainability. Upon my return I started working with garbage haulers on regulatory compliance, completing hundreds, if not thousands of waste characterization audits. After spending a few years in the industry working with mostly businesses and municipalities, I realized that there were quite a few people who, like me, wanted to do better, but didn’t know how. I launched my blog in the Fall of 2015 to start helping people with every day tips and tricks for living more with less.

Did you run into anything especially difficult, and how did you solve it?

I receive quite a bit of pushback from both businesses and individuals with respect to adopting zero waste practices. There seems to be a perception amongst business owners that anything environmentally-friendly is more expensive. In these instances I have to show them how going zero waste actually reduces expenses, both directly and indirectly. Also, more and more people are seeking businesses that are sustainable. Showing your customers how green you are is absolutely good for business.

When it comes to individuals, a common thing I am told is, “You should see my recycle bin at home, it is always full,” or “I am doing my best.” In the United States only about one-third of material is recycled or composted, which means that two-thirds is going directly into the landfill. Recycling infrastructure is weak or even non-existent throughout much of our country, which means that even our best recycling intentions are often not good enough. Many people do not realize that recycling a material is only as good as the hauler’s ability to find a market for it. If the hauler can’t find a buyer then he will simply send the material to a landfill. Once I explain why we should avoid packaging and use of unnecessary materials, people are usually much more receptive to adopting new ideas.

You live in L.A., is that correct? How is it being zero-waste there, in terms of resources and in terms of people’s reactions?

I live in Pasadena, CA, which is adjacent to downtown Los Angeles. One of the greatest challenges we are faced with in Southern California is the “they recycle for us” culture that I mentioned earlier. We currently have a system where some haulers sort material for us and some require us to separate it, so there isn’t uniformity. It is hard to educate people on ways to reduce their waste and/or increase recycling when they have no sense of what is actually recyclable.

Presently in the City of L.A. there are about 40 approved haulers. This means that if you own or work at a business or live in an apartment or condo there are potentially 40 different companies that can service your location. In addition to multiple haulers servicing the same block (which causes excessive pollution and congestion), there is that issue of inconsistent service. Some offer source-separated recycling and composting, while others do not.

We are in an exciting time, though. The City of L.A. has broken up the city into 11 garbage districts and has awarded exclusive contracts to eight haulers. These franchise hauling agreements mean only one hauler will service your block, instead of several. Additionally, all businesses and multi-family dwellings will soon have access to the exact same services.

Do you have a hard-earned piece of advice for someone warming up to such a shift?

Pace yourself. I tried to drop waste cold turkey, which was incredibly difficult, and very discouraging. Social media has created an all-or-nothing attitude, which caused me to feel pressured into being 100% zero waste. Perfect. Even today, I am not completely zero waste. It is just impossible. There are too many variables. The best advice I have for someone looking to go zero waste is to start small, be consistent, and don’t give up. Perfect isn’t necessary. The important thing is that you make the effort and stick with it.

Is there a resource you particularly recommend?

Here are three books that are must-reads:

  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (Michael Braungart and William McDonough, 2009)
  • The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time (Paul Connett, 2013)
  • Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life (Bea Johnson, 2013)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Zero waste is a lifestyle and it takes a holistic approach. Focus on one aspect of your life to start, but overtime expand your quest to all aspects.

Follow Jonathan’s work on Zerowasteguy.com, Instagram or Twitter.

Foraging: Poppy Seeds

(This is wildly off-season, but I’m hoping to build up a few of these by the time we’re in season!)

Please refer to the main Foraging page for ethics and more resources.

poppy

What to make of them: A few ideas

  • Poppy seeds work famously well with lemon in baked desserts.
  • If you make your own personal care products, they can be used in a facial exfoliating mask for gentle action (similar but infinitely preferable to plastic microbeads).
  • Below are a selection of recipes; you’ll find many more on Pinterest.

walnut-poppy-pasta
Modified from: Poppy Seed and Walnut Pasta

bialys
Modified from: Onion and Poppy Seed Bialys

lemon-poppy-honey
Original recipe: Lemon poppy seed honey

pirishkes
Modified from: Poppy Seed Honey Cookies (Pirishkes)

Zero-Waste Shopping Kit

Feel free to print these images for your private use. This post accompanies the general information on Zero-Waste Shopping.

You need very little to conduct waste-free shopping trips, and some of these items can do double duty asfor foraging trips as well!

Shopping kit.jpg

Produce bags are cloth bags with a drawstring; being almost weightless, they allow you to weigh the contents without adding to your bill. You’ll find many types to buy on Etsy or even Ebay (look for “reusable produce bags”), but as it’s more useful to have a dozen of them in various sizes, it’s easier to make them yourself. I can’t sew but still made a collection for myself in 5 minutes each: I include instructions below. As for the type of cloth, I recommend butter muslin (organic and unbleached), which is loosely woven and lets you glimpse the contents – useful when you take a load of these to the cash register. It is widely available anywhere that sells fabric, and inexpensive. However, if you need some bags to carry more than 1kg, you may want sturdier fabric. Perhaps taken from an old pillowcase?
On the other hand, for the smaller bags destined for fine-textured products, you may occasionally want a tighter weave: I cut up an old polyester scarf and made bags from that. No weave is fine enough for powders: for these you’ll want to use paper bags or small glassine envelopes (the kind used for stamps), which can be reused.

produce-bag

DIY Body Scrubs

A few recipes for body scrubs you can make with kitchen ingredients. Foot scrubs (more robust) and face scrubs (more gentle) will be added separately. Starting out with “The Simplest Scrub” below, and knowing the properties of various ingredients (listed here), you can easily create your own recipes, tailored to your needs and likes.

Feel free to print this image for your private use. Click here for more DIY Personal Care products and how to source the ingredients.

body-scrubs

Living Consciously Another View for the Earth

contributed by Melvyn Banks

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

A Brief Look Through The Window

What effect do we think our thoughts, feelings, conscious awareness and intention have on our environment, our lives, and the world we live in?

What do we think is the nature of matter and/or consciousness, the world we create, and how we may influence this; with particular attention to our interaction with the very particles of matter, physics, nature, biology, and our sense of interconnectedness — or lack of it, our feeling of unity or separation?

How may we explore this, even change this, to work in harmony with all life, consciously or unconsciously, or are we in disharmony and resistance to this?
Do we sense and perceive ourselves and life as separate entities or part of an interacting wholeness, evolving and sustaining or separate and opposing, or even just maybe co-existing?

We are continually creating energy of thought forms that may or may not manifest into life, our world of matter.
Simply put, among the many daily thoughts we have, some are fleeting, others more persistent, and if we sustain a particular thought and process long enough, consciously or unconsciously, it can become our action, our life and part of the world we create. Thus if I desire to become a cricketer I set this process in motion and act on it to bring this ‘alive’.

What world have we created and what do we want to create in our own life and the world we inhabit?

Bringing an idea, a thought into being, into the world of matter, needs focus of attention and intention.
To guide, allow constellation and coalescence of that energy into matter, into form and function, that then could allow this energy to be worked with, to flow in its natural state. To work in cooperation with what it ‘wants’ to be and what it can be; the light within matter coming alive with its potential, purpose and infinite possibility. Working and facilitating with this light and love to reflect and manifest itself in creation, for all good, oneness and manifestation.

Envisioning and Embodying a New World

There needs to be a consciousness shift; and how may our human consciousness manifest this?
What interplay does our consciousness have in manifesting this into being into form and function, what is our Vision?
How may we listen humbly with attention and intention to this vision and embodiment that ‘wants to be born’, how is our consciousness employed, mediated and interfaced with our vision, with this (Alchemical) process from non-being into being into form, matter-principles-process, nature and nurture?

I propose the thought that our consciousness is the midwife at the threshold of infinite possibilities of what could be and wants to be, and our vision. And thus with conscious attention and intention serves and facilitates to reflect this vision from the sacred numinous realm (quantum possibilities) into being and matter. (Without manipulation from the ego-centered desires)
How may we learn to listen and to watch this inner and outer process this interplay of potential, to align our unique human consciousness with the consciousness of the Earth to reflect and manifest this energy being born and coming into matter and allow this presence, this energy, to be known and come alive in this world.

I feel it is our responsibility to consciously listen at this threshold to ‘something’ of a finer
consciousness that lies beyond our own beliefs and systems, with openness, integrity and humility, not to recreate a new vision based on old images, so we are free to listen to ‘life itself ‘and align this new vision with the soul of the world – the Anima Mundi, so as to allow and facilitate this new vision and Myth to tell us what it can be, to reflect into life what wants to be born embodied and made manifest.

To honour this amazing being, our Earth, that gives us so much so freely.

How to Fold a Bin Liner

Here’s how to fold a bin liner/garbage bag out of spreads from a newspaper. It’s adapted from an origami technique, so it starts out with a square. You can cut the extra bit to adjust the format, but I prefer the following, which makes for a bigger bag: Use 4 sheets. Lay down the 1st one, then the 2nd, sliding the latter up until the overall shape is a square. Place #3 over #1, and #4 over #2, to increase your square’s thickness and cohesion. Then proceed to fold.

Feel free to print this image for your private use. Click here for more alternatives to plastic bin liners and other plastic in the kitchen.

bin-liner