Review of Sustainable Living in 2019

Photo by Ivars Krutainis

Sustainable living has its ups and downs and I like to talk about both, because doing otherwise just gives a false view of the world which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. In this article I reflect on what worked, and more importantly didn’t work for me in 2019.

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Photo by Ivars Krutainis on Unsplash

Before I launch into the full article lets me take a breath and wish you a very Happy New Year! Here’s to a new decade of sustainable living and if little birdies are correct it’s off to a good start. My segment on low-waste living for the programme Nationwide is due to air on Irish TV (RTE) this evening at 7:00, I’ll be mentioned in an article about sustainable living in the Irish Independent newspaper this Sunday, I’ve scheduled to do a sustainable living talk in the new zero waste store, The Good Neighbour, in Dublin 14 on January the 23rd and I’ll be on a Q&A panel at the Zero Waste Festival on Jan 25th in the Science Gallery in Dublin 2. And that’s just January!

So continuing with that positive note let’s start with our 2019 wins!
Researching the Circular Economy – Getting a chance to do a Masters in Product Design for the Circular Economy is a dream come true. It’s way more work than I expected and at times I struggle to keep my head above water but I’m loving the chance to drill down into sustainable design and policy and connecting with people working in the field.

Media appearances – I can’t believe how much media coverage sustainable living has received in the last year. About time too! During 2019 I gave talks at the Dublin Food Coop, Zero Waste Festivals, the Love your Home exhibit, the Airfield Food Festival, Bloom in the Park, spoken on 3 regional radio stations, was featured in The Irish Times and The Irish Independent, and appeared on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTE 3 times!

2000 Instagram followers – So thrilled to reach this milestone on Instagram. I know numbers shouldn’t matter but they do. I have to be a realist; companies notice numbers, the media notice numbers, the public notice numbers. With more followers I get a higher ranking from the algorithm, which gives me greater exposure, which gets me more followers, which exposes more people to info on sustainable living.

Friends – The best part of living a more sustainable life is the friends that I make on the journey. A shout out to everyone that I’ve been delighted to get to know in 2019. And an extra special shout out to my lovely patrons and supporters: you are all very dear to my heart.

Sustainable Gardening Course – I so enjoyed the free gardening course that I did with Aoife Munn via Dublin City Council in Herbert Park this summer. Having gardened for over 20 years, with a keen interest on biodiversity I didn’t expect to learn a lot. Boy was I wrong. I learned tonnes and make loads of great people to boot.

The Opening of Zero Waste Stores – We’ve done very well with new zero waste stores in Ireland this year. Close to me we have The Carrots Tail in D6, Veganic in D2, &Keep in Greystones, The Good Neighbour in D14, and finally The Source in D6. I’ve also heard of cult:zero in Meath and The Filling Station in Galway. For a full list of package-free stores in Ireland check out my Map of Eco Businesses in Ireland.

The Conscious Store & We Make Good – So great to see two ethical sustainable pop-up stores open in Dublin over the festive period this year.  My only regret is that they were only pop-up and not permanent. Hope that changes.

Sustainable Section of Craft Fair in RDS – Not only did we have a whole host of low-waste sustainable Christmas fairs throughout the country we also had a Sustainable Gift Section at Ireland’s larges craft fair ‘Gifted’

Eco and second-hand toys on the Late Late Toy show – For anyone outside of Ireland the LATE Late Toy Show is HUGE in Ireland and watched by almost all families. This year the focus was more on the children than the toys, which was lovely. It also featured second-hand toys for the first time and showcased some excellent eco-toys from Jiminy.

Sustainable Events – There was a whole host of sustainable events in Ireland this year, including but not limited to Zero Waste Festivals, Starting a Bcorp Movement in Ireland, Job Opportunities in the Circular Economy in Ireland, Business Opportunities in the Circular Economy in Ireland, Climate Finance Week, Climate Cocktail events, Global Climate Strike, Extinction Rebellion Protests.

Patch Plasters – Seems quite minor in comparison to the other things listed but still, often it’s the little things in life that give us joy. Very happy to report that these biodegradable plasters from Patch stuck very well to my skin and stayed there even when exposed to water. They don’t stick well to one another so if you’re wrapping a plaster around your finger then cut off the excess or it’ll flail around.

Eggless Cupcakes – Very happy to report that using linseed meal (ground up linseeds) works really really well in lieu of eggs in cupcakes / fairy cakes. I haven’t the nerve to try it on full blown cakes yet but so far so good. I just grind some linseeds using the attachment on my food blender, mix 1 tablespoon with 2 tablespoons of water and leave sit for 5-10 mins, then use in place of 1 egg in the mixture.

So that was all the ups for the year, now the downers!
Fresh Yeast – I bought this as an alternative to the dry yeast I buy in a metal tin with a plastic lid in my local Supervalu. The fresh yeast I bought came in greaseproof paper in a local polish shop. To be honest I just found the hassle of pre-cutting the fresh yeast into usable portions for freezing just didn’t justify any potential saving in packaging. Plus I needed to travel to get it, it’s heavier than dried yeast, and needs to be refrigerated – meaning more emissions from transportation and storage, and it needed to be left work for 15mins before adding to the dough mix, which was a pain.

Homemade Dishwasher Powder – Although the DIY dishwasher powder we made worked well, it didn’t work as well as the proprietary one by Winni’s. Also I wasn’t able to buy all the ingredients package-free so it kinda defeated the purpose of the exercise. Now that we’ve more zero waste stores I could make it package-free but honestly I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle. You can find the recipe we used for DIY dishwasher powder here.

Water Only hair washing – As you will have read in a recent article, this didn’t work very well for me, but I’m glad I did it because it help the overall condition of my hair and helped me better understand how to take care of it going forward.

Roasted Chickpea snacks – I’ve seen oven roasted chickpeas touted as great low-waste snacks on lots of social media feeds so decided to invest the 30mins of oven time to roast them one evening. Verdict: Meh! Not worth the electricity in my opinion.

Dried Apples Rings – A great way to make use of a glut of apples but when you consider that it takes approx 4000 watts in a standard oven to dry out the apple pieces over 2 hours I’m not convinced it’s the most sustainable way for us to deal with left over apples.

DIY Mosquito Deterrent – This summer I invested in Lemon Eucalyptus Oil to blend with almond oil to make my own mosquito deterrent for use in Ireland and in Italy. OMG, what a disaster. I was eaten alive. Added to that I was as slippery as an eel and couldn’t go in the sun for fear of burning. The concoction also stained everything, smelled awful and burned my skin slightly on contact. I should add that the shop-bought mosquito repellents we got were equally ineffective. The mosquitoes in Italy don’t carry any dangerous diseases so I was willing to give it a go. If you’re travelling to a place with life-changing mosquito born diseases take professional advice. You can read all about natural insect repellents here.

Garlic Spray – I frequently see recommendations to spray plants with garlic-infused water to deter pests and fungus and as a foliage tonic so I gave it a go. I steeped a clove of garlic in a litre of rain water for 2 weeks and then diluted the resulting ‘tea’ 1:10 with rain water. I sprayed my plants with this mixture once a week for 4 weeks and nothing! No visible difference in leaf health or nibbled leaves. All I got for my trouble were stinky hands!

Milk Spray – As with the garlic spray I heard that spraying leaves with milk helps prevent mildew on plants. Well would someone please tell my cucumber this. Despite my best efforts my poor plants succumbed to wave after wave of mildew during the growing season.

Buying in Charity Shops – I’m really sad to have this in the down category this year. Prior summer everything was great and I found lots of stuff but since September I found very, very little of any interest in charity shops. I don’t know if it’s because more people or buying from charity shops or rehoming stuff via resale or freecycle groups / websites or that there’s just less good quality stuff to donate. I’m going to have to see how things go in the new year and update this article if things change.

Making Kombucha – My first forage into diy kombucha didn’t fair very well, and I ended up with vinegar after 7 days of fermentation. To be honest I think the scobie I used wasn’t as fresh as it needed to be. I might give this a go again but I’ll need to check I can consume 600ml of kombucha a week before I do.

Conker Laundry Liquid – I gave this another go this year after learning of a new recipe, but despite the new recipe the results were the same as before. Meh! Read my updated article on Conker Laundry Liquid: The Verdict for more info

Eating less meat & dairy – We started well and managed to reduce our meat-based dinners from 7 to 4 a week, but I think that’s probably going to be our limit for now. My family’s food sensitivities are making it very challenging to come up with more vegetarian dishes that we’ll all eat and now that I’m in college it’s gone from difficult to impossible. My own intake of meat and dairy is fairing going down but i really have to start exploring other non-processed vegan alternatives to dairy in the New Year.

Carrying Reusables – Starting college has really challenged my commitment to using reusables. It’s so much easier to pick up a single-use food container or coffee cup and dispose of it when done than to cart what you need in and out everyday. But I do it all the same because despite the hassle using single-use items is just not something I’m willing to do anymore.

Hydrogen Peroxide for stain removal – This was another tip I read on sustainable living blogs but despite it’s low-impact on the planet I found it to be no better than soap and water on stains and for me, not worth buying. Check out my article on sustainable laundry for some stain removal tips that do work.

DIY Mascara – After getting yet another recipe for homemade mascara I gave it a go but alas it was a terrible as the previous attempts. You can read all about my DIY mascara trials here.

Growing Strawberries – I’m giving up. I’m waving my white flag. Squirrel you have won! Or have you? Considering I’ll be rehoming all my strawberry plants now you’ve actually lost!

New Years’s Resolutions
I know a lot of people hate new year resolutions. I love, love, love them. I like planning, I like improving myself and I like an (achievable) challenge. Bring it on I say!

My New Years’ resolutions for 2019 were

  • Make/ customise own clothes – college has required me to put a pin in that
  • Keep testing recipes for homemade mascara  – see above for how that went
  • Source more sustainable ethical foundation – happy to report I found it in V Claire in D6
  • Try washing hair with water only – see above for how that went
  • (Finally) start a new business – I started on this but college has required me to put a pin in that
  • Support Irish growers of chemical-free cut flowers – managed to buy teachers’ end of year gift from The Flower Field

For 2020 my New Year’s Resolutions are

  • Eat vegan / plant-based for 70-80% of the time
  • Practice gratitude – apparently it’s one of the quickest ways to endow a sense of happiness.
  • Get comfortable disappointing people, including myself – there’s an article in this one, but in summary the modern world is too demanding and if I want to sleep and spend time with loved ones I have to purposely do things to a lower standard than I’d like. I find it very frustrating and I’m practising being at ease with it because there is no alternative.

Thanks for reading

Elaine Butler

PS – If you’d like, you can also read my review of 2018 and my review of 2017 and remember to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more regular update.

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

6 thoughts on “Review of Sustainable Living in 2019

  1. Happy new year to you – I too get eaten alive by midges and mossies, although I dont always remember, I do find lavender oil the better. I mix lavender and base oil and cover any exposed skin – or if you are gardening and dont want to do the oil on skin, some on a tissue or cotton wool and tucked into ankle socks and sleeves is a tip my aunty gave me


  2. What, you don’t like roasted chickpeas! We love them. The recipe I use says to leave them in the oven as it cools to help make them crispy. But they do need some salt and/or spices.
    ps. My water only hair washing is finally starting to go well. It only took 12 months!


    1. I’m so jealous about your no-shampoo success and I can’t believe you think it took 12 months. I thought your hair looked fab when you were last over. I haven’t been sharing posts about the Australian fires on the Facebook page because I think it’s the scariest climate story out there at the moment and don’t want to frighten people. Hope you’re safe over there.


  3. My hair might have looked good but the scalp felt awful. While I’ve been mainly “water only” for quite a while, I would do a “conditioner only” about once a week, then once a month a wash with my all-natural face wash. I figured if it was gentle enough for my face it wouldn’t strip my hair too much. But in the past two months I’ve felt like my scalp has improved that I’ve not had to do those other washes. What changed is I went from “water only” washing once every 3-4 days to every second day as it got hotter here. That’s helped to reduce the sebum built up, which was what felt awful.
    Ps. Thanks for not posting anything about the fires. It’s nice to have one information source fire free. We’re safe at home, though the area we were in over Christmas in Victoria isn’t. It’s a truly horrendous summer.


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