4 Things I Don’t Recycle Anymore

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Whenever I see the recycling bin being filled up with more trash than recyclables, I feel so sorry for the workers transporting these all the way back to their facility to sort.  I wonder how many items are really recycled, and how much eventually is sent to the incineration plants where they should have been directed to, right at the start.  At this point, you’ll ask yourself: why waste even more resources to create such an unnecessary detour?

Even with recyclable plastic food containers, they are usually unclean. Not many washes and dries their recyclables before depositing them into the bins.  I cannot see through the Tetrapak beverage cartons, but they are likely not rinsed.  The residual milk would probably turn bad by the time they reach the recycling plant, can you imagine the stench as the workers open up the cartons?

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Rarely but unbelievably, I even found pet litter and food waste amongst the plastics and paper once; these only end up contaminating the good recyclables.  So are we putting more junk or recyclables into the recycling bins?  I am not the only one that found food in recycling bins.

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

I am also quite sure foil packaging and balloons cannot be recycled too.  Bed linens, pillows and bolsters?  Confirm trash.  I hope the staff collecting the recyclables will sort these at bin source instead of bringing such obvious trash back to the recycling facility.

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

At times, I suspect the residents are treating the blue bin as a freecycling zone.  How do you explain the appearance of potted plants, old clothing, stuffed toys, and perfectly good stuff like this and this?  The upside of leaving usable stuff in good condition around the high traffic recycling bin area is that there are good chances of these items getting picked up.  However, recycling bins are emptied three times a week, so the window period for the items to find a new home is quite short.

With the end of the year approaching, households will be spring cleaning, decluttering and discarding, overfilling the recycling bins with items that we are too guilty to discard as trash on our own.  So, we devise a plan to be eco-friendly or charitable; treating every trash as “recyclable” or donate stuff we no longer want to the less fortunate.

Someone else can turn them into something useful.

Someone else can give them a second lease of life.

Out of sight, out of mind, where they end up never matter; we have tried recycling them!

Unfortunately, a study suggests that, even if we recycle the right way, only 9% of world plastic gets recycled.  Maybe it’s time to tell ourselves that recycling just isn’t working anymoreForget recycling and just stop generating more waste instead.

The only items I am still recycling are old newspaper and cardboard. But I only recycle through the karang guni uncles, not the blue bins. They tell me the truths about recycling based on economics, not some grand ideas of waste eradication by recycling/upcycling every plastics, glass and paper trash we generate mindlessly.

How has this affected my recycling habits? Greatly. I no longer spend time (& water) rinsing and drying recyclables. Whatever I can refuse, repurpose and reuse, I will. Here are some items that I either give away/ reuse or simply discard as trash.

++  Plastics ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

In theory, PET and PP plastics are highly recyclable materials.  In real life, they are not worth the efforts and resources to recycle.   We are also probably generating too much single-use plastics to be able to keep up with the rate of recycling.

BEFORE: For a long time, I practised the zero-waste habit of refusing to accept single-use plastics.  On occasions when I encountered #ZeroWasteFailures, I would rinse-clean soiled plastics before depositing them in the recycling bin.

AFTER:  Repurpose takeaway containers (PP5) as fresh produce storage boxes, for keeping my cilantro and spring onions crisp and fresh.  Also great for storing enoki mushrooms.  I will discard the plastics in the trash bin once they start to chip or crack.

++ Tetrapak ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Recycling milk and beverage Tetrapak cartons can be quite confusing!  I thought there are no Tetrapak recycling facilities here.  But NEA’s Guide encourages depositing them in the blue bins, while Tetrapak’s website says they have a few collection points.

BEFORE: I would rinse out the cartons, tear open and leave them to dry before sending them to the recycling bin.

AFTER: Why recycle when the cartons can be repurposed?  I discovered my naked bar, a local natural soap maker, who also accepts empty milk carton donations (Note: doesn’t accept cartons with aluminium foil lining) and reuses them as soap mould!

++ Metal cans ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Canned Bailing mushrooms, condensed milk, evaporated milk, tuna, these are some canned food items we consume at home. The frustrating part is always seeing dirty cans inside the recycling bins, contaminating the entire bin with food.

BEFORE:  Rinse, dry, and deposit into recycling bins

AFTER: Discard; I don’t consume canned food much, now that I no longer recycle metal cans, I will also try to consume even lesser.

++ Glass jars and bottles ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

I read that in many countries, the local recycling facilities have stopped accepting glass.  It’s a pity because glass is one of the materials can be recycled INDEFINITELY.    I have always tried to reuse them at home instead of recycling.  It happens to be one of my favourite material choices for food storage containers.  The challenge is to stop collecting once the cupboard is filled with enough glass bottles and jars.

BEFORE:  Repurpose them into reusable food storage containershome decor accessories and deposit any excess into the recycling bin.

AFTER:  Still repurposing them into reusable food storage containershome decor accessories but no longer deposit any excess into the recycling bin.  I also discovered Refind, the only glass recycler I know of, but have yet passed them anything.


Sustainability issues should focus less on recycling, spotlight more on refusing, repurposing and incentivise reusing instead. Because no one wants our recyclable trash plus our plastic problem has become too huge to be solved with recycling.

No Churn Banana Ice Cream – Immersion Blender Method

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

One-ingredient banana ice cream is cheap and easy to make at home.  Hence, it makes sense to keep a supply of frozen bananas to save money.  Recently, I learnt that to create a new habit, we simply reduce the activation energy for the positive habits that we want to implement.  This means, the less effort and energy it takes to carry out the activity, the more likely we will stick to the habit.  This is known as the 20-second rule.  I decided to apply the concept to make me eat less commercial sugar-laden ice cream.

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

To make it easier to enjoy the ice cream, I store the bananas in large glass pasta jars by serving portions, e.g. left bottle – for three persons, right bottle – for two.  By the way, that’s Korean hot pepper flakes stored inside the freezer too, just like Maangchi

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

//  when it’s time for dessert, retrieve a jar from the freezer,

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

// add some dairy or coconut milk,

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

//  for a soft-serve consistency, do not add too much liquid or it’ll turn into a banana smoothie instead.

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

//  here’s the reason why I use these pasta bottles; I use an immersion blender to puree the frozen bananas. Then, I eat the ice cream straight out of the jar!  How convenient!  And that’s how I apply the 20-second rule to eating homemade banana ice-cream and avoiding factory-made ones!

Flaxseed Potato Bread

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

Of all the root vegetables that I add to my bread recipes, taro is my favourite;  it produces the most lovely white fluffy crumbs.  However, my recipes call for 100g of mashed taro only, at most 150g for each pullman loaf.  I end up with excess taro which becomes a burden to clear lately, as I don’t cook as many meals as before.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

So I went back to enriching my bread with potatoes.  To make my baking life easier, I don’t even weigh them anymore; I simply use up a small-size potato that I can cup with one hand.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

To pen this recipe, I weighed 100g of mashed potato for this bake.  But I think the recipe is really forgiving, 135g -150g of potatoes should work too!

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

The first 60-minute bulk proof was completed inside the mixing bowl.  I transfer it to a wooden board to be shaped into a boule.  Since I have time, I let it relax for another 15 minutes before its final shaping.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

Covered, free from the draft, of course.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

After final shaping, I transfer it to a Pullman loaf tin that I line with a reusable baking cloth bought from here, no more single-use parchment/baking/greaseproof paper trash!

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

I let the dough take its time to rise to the rim of the loaf tin, then I bake it for 30 minutes at 170C.  Here’s the detailed recipe, below.


Flaxseed Potato Bread 

220g bread flour


100g cooked potatoes, mashed


1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast


1/4 teaspoon sea salt


2 tablespoons raw honey
1 egg, beaten
30g water*
20g cold butter, cubed
2 tablespoons flaxseeds

* Do not pour all 30g water into the mixer bowl, add water bit by bit, watch the dough closely, stop once the ingredients form a rough ball.

In a mixer bowl, combine bread flour, mashed potatoes, egg, instant yeast, sea salt, raw honey, and water. Turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead these ingredients on the lowest speed (KA 1) till they come into a ball.  Continue to knead for 3 minutes, then stop the mixer and let the dough sit for at least 10 minutes.

Turn on the mixer again and knead for 1 minute before adding butter cubes one by one while the mixer is running on its lowest speed.  Keep kneading till there are no traces of butter left and the dough has reached windowpane stage.  At this stage, the dough will be extremely pliable and baby-bottom soft. Add flaxseeds and knead for another 1-2 minutes, or until the seeds are well mixed into the dough.

Leave the dough in the mixer bowl for its first proof of 60 minutes.  The dough will rise to double its volume,  punch down to deflate and transfer it to a clean worktop.

Flatten the dough to push out gas trapped inside the dough, either by hand or a rolling pin.  Shape the dough into a boule, let it sit for 15 minutes.

Next, shape it into a log and place it in a bread tin, seam side facing downwards.  Let this sit in a draft-free place to rise for another 50-60 minutes.

When the bread has risen to the rim of the baking tin, bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 30 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pan immediately after baking, and let it cool on a rack completely before slicing or serving.

Store in an airtight container if not consumed immediately, to keep the loaf soft and the crumbs from drying out.

*Wash the reusable baking cloth with dish detergent (or tea seed powder), air-dry completely before stowing them away for next baking session.

From Trash To Treasure – Upcycle Mooncake Boxes

Mid-Autumn Festival will be over soon.  Fancy mooncake boxes; Love or Loathe them?  Keep or Throw?  Reuse or Upcycle?  Anything but recycling, because fancy packaging can’t be easily recycled.

Furthermore, recycling is NOT working, and definitely NOT the answer to our mounting waste pollution problems.  I buy my mooncake sans packaging.  If I see nice mooncakes boxes, I’ll shamelessly ask for them.  If you have been throwing away your mooncake boxes and wonder what else you can do with them, here are some ways that I reuse the containers.

//  Serving tray, for pretty tea sessions

// Laptop stand, to improve airflow

From Trash To Treasure : Upcycled Mooncake Boxes // Mono + Co

// Baby keepsake box, for the most beautiful memories

// Bookstand, for current reads

// Desk organiser, for hiding away all stationery mess

// Toolbox, for the handywoman in me

// Pantry organiser, for better space management

// New arrival, looks suitable as CNY decor like this

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

The “ugly” red dragon fruits my mom bought were unbelievably good-looking!  According to her, fruit stores put up heavily discounted ugly or overripe fruit almost daily.  My mom always buys the ones on clearance because they are such a steal; the red dragon fruits were going for $1 each that day.

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

The pink fruit makes great natural food colouring.  Since I make bread every other day, the flesh of the fruit seems a good addition to my bread recipe.

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

I omitted eggs and milk to keep the recipe as basic as possible.   The dough reached windowpane stage effortlessly and did a lovely bulk rise.  After going through a second proofing, the bread looked very promising, tight gluten cloak and all.

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

Its bright pink hue turned into a pastel shade after baking but still pretty.

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

The crumbs are light and airy; not a dense loaf.  Specks of seeds made the bread look even more wholesome!

Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

My daughter, who normally doesn’t eat dragon fruits loves the pink bread slices.  Now that’s a pretty way to add the fruit to her diet!


Red Dragon Fruit Bread Loaf 

280g bread flour


130g red dragon fruit, mashed


1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast


1/4 teaspoon sea salt


2 tablespoons raw sugar


30g water 
*
20g cold butter, cubed

* Do not pour all 30g water into the mixer bowl, add water bit by bit, watch the dough closely, stop once the ingredients form a rough ball.

In a mixer bowl, combine bread flour, red dragon fruit, instant yeast, sea salt, raw sugar, and water. Turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead these ingredients on the lowest speed (KA 1) till they come into a ball.  Continue to knead for 3 minutes, then stop the mixer and let the dough sit for at least 15 minutes.

Turn on the mixer again and knead for 1 minute before adding butter cubes one by one while the mixer is running on its lowest speed.  Keep kneading till there are no traces of butter left and the dough has reached windowpane stage.  At this stage, the dough will be extremely pliable and baby-bottom soft.

Leave the dough in the mixer bowl for its first proof of 60 minutes.  The dough will rise to double its volume,  punch down to deflate and transfer it to a clean worktop.

Flatten the dough to push out gas trapped inside the dough, either by hand or a rolling pin.  The dough is quite sticky, flour hands and worktop with flour to help with shaping.  Shape the dough into a log and place it in a greased bread tin, seam side facing downwards.  Let this sit in a draft-free place to rise for another 50-60 minutes.  Optional: dust flour on bread top.

When the bread has risen to the rim of the baking tin, bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 30 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pan immediately after baking, and let it cool on a rack completely before slicing or serving.

Store in an airtight container if not consumed immediately, to keep the loaf soft and the crumbs from drying out.

Make It: Pancake Mix

I have found another use for my recycled pasta sauce glass jars; storing pancake mix!  When ready to cook, simply add the list of wet ingredients scribbled on the bottle, cover lid and shake to mix into batter.  How convenient!

My recipe makes four fluffy pancakes.  My photo showed only three pancakes because the first one always gets eaten up while I wait for the rest to get cooked.

I cook these pancakes in a covered 6-inch skillet over very low heat.

If done correctly, the bottom side of the pancake will be golden brown, while the top side is perfectly steam-cooked.

The premix makes it more convenient to cook pancakes for breakfast at 6am, now that school has reopened!


PANCAKE MIX

makes four fluffy 6-inch pancakes

1 cup plain flour

2 tablespoons oat flour
2 tablespoons milk powder, optional
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons raw sugar

Mix all the dry ingredients and store in a glass jar or container.

To cook, add 1 cup water, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Follow cooking instructions here.

Make It: Oat Flour, Plus A Bread Recipe

The supermarkets put up rolled oats on offer quite often.  I get a 1kg-pack at around $5, which I then turn into plenty of breakfast granola because prepacked granola can be so expensive to buy!  Oat flour is another pantry item that is cheaper to DIY than getting store-bought ones.

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

There is only one ingredient needed to make oat flour: rolled oats.

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

And there is only one equipment you need to make oat flour: blender/ food processor.  You don’t even need to own one of those high-end blenders.  Mine’s a Sharp-brand; no-frills table-top blender and here’s the oat flour I made with it.

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

Blend rolled oats until you get a fine powder.  And that’s it!  Unbelievably easy right?  Transfer the flour to a container and use up in 1 month.  

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

Use your homemade oat flour to make bread, pancakes, waffles, muffins, and cookies.  I adapted my potato bread recipe by adding oat flour and shaping the dough into buns instead of a Pullman loaf.

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

Want to know the key to fluffy bread?  Knead the dough until windowpane stage.  That’s the stage when you can stretch and pull the dough thinly without tearing it easily.  Achieving this is important in breadmaking because that’s how you know the bread will expand and rise with a smooth and tight crust.

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

The buns turned golden brown in just 15 minutes, baked at 170C. 

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co

To keep the crust soft, I brush oil on the buns immediately after they are taken out of the oven.

Homemade Oat Flour // Mono + Co


Oat Flour Potato Buns 

200g bread flour

20g oat flour 2 tablespoons milk powder, optional 
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
 2 tablespoons raw sugar
 100g mashed potato
 1 large egg, beaten **
 30-40g potato water ***
 20g cold butter, cubed

** I used large eggs that weigh 75grams with shell.

*** Potato water refers to the water that the potatoes were cooked in.  Cool it down to room temperature before using.

In a mixer bowl, combine bread flour, oat flour, milk powder, instant yeast, sea salt, raw sugar, mashed potato, egg, and water. Turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead these ingredients on the lowest speed (KA 1) till they come into a ball.  Continue to knead for 3 minutes, then stop the mixer and let the dough sit for 15 minutes.

Turn on the mixer again and knead for 1 minute before adding butter cubes one by one while the mixer is running on its lowest speed.  Keep kneading till there are no traces of butter left and the dough has reached windowpane stage.  At this stage, the dough will be extremely pliable and baby-bottom soft.

Leave the dough in the mixer bowl for its first proof of 60 minutes.  The dough will rise to double its volume,  punch down to deflate and transfer it to a clean worktop.

Shape into 12 x 40g buns and arrange them on a greased baking tray, proof for 50-60 minutes.

Bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 15 minutes until the buns are golden brown. 

Remove bread from oven and let them cool completely on a rack before storing in an airtight container.

One Recipe: Steamed Mantou, Oven-Baked Bread, or Slider Buns

One Recipe: Steamed Mantou or Baked Buns // Mono+Co

The soft and fluffy buns shown at the end of this video recipe looked unbelievable.  Really, how do you make steamed buns that look so golden-brown, like those baked in an oven?  My first attempt produced pale-looking steamed buns.

There is no water in the dough recipe; four eggs and 30ml of oil are the only liquids holding the rest of the dry ingredients together.

The bread dough rose very well, and the steam-cook process produced an excellent Mantou texture.

Soft fluffy crumbs, like those baked with tangzhong (roux) recipes!  But the colour of the crust is so different from the one in the video.  Was it because I did not use a cling-film to cover the dough when steaming?

I tried again, this time by baking the dough in the oven.

The colour is nice for a baked loaf.

When the base looks this good, you know the bread will be yummy as well.

My third attempt was to make slider buns with this recipe.  The specks you see on the buns are oat pulp that I added to the recipe.  I make oat milk at home and often need to recycle the oat pulp residue in baking projects.  If I am not baking, then I simply make oat porridge, which is the fast way to use up the pulp!

Bake them at 170C for 20 minutes, and you get squishy slider buns.

Add your favourite fillings, or enjoy them plain.

I store them in a covered cast iron pot.  The pot makes great bread containers!

So there you go, I have tried this recipe three times, each time making a different type of bread.

My verdict: I will use this recipe for steamed Mantou only, simply because I already have my preferred recipes for baking bread and buns.  But now I am getting curious if my favourite bread recipe can be steamed to become fluffy Mantou!


Steamed Mantou/ Oven-Baked Bread or Slider Buns

adapted from here
300g plain flour

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast

30g sugar

30g cooking oil

*Optional: I added 100g of oat pulp to the dough for my slider version.

In a mixer bowl, combine plain flour, eggs, instant yeast, and sugar. Turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead these ingredients on the lowest speed (KA 1) till they come into a ball.

Adding oil and keep kneading till the dough reaches window pane stage.  At this stage, the dough will be extremely pliable and baby-bottom soft.

Leave the dough in the mixer bowl for its first proof of 60 minutes.  The dough will rise to double its volume,  punch down to deflate and transfer it to a clean worktop.

Shape the dough to your liking (mantou, loaf, buns etc.) and place in a steam basket, bread tin or baking pan, depending on what you are making with the recipe.

Leave the shaped dough to rest for another 50-60 minutes.

To steam Mantou: Fill a pot with enough cold water for a 50-minute steaming process, as you should not interrupt the process by opening the cover halfway through to top up the water.  Place the buns in the pot and start steaming on high heat, once the water begins to boil, set timer to steam for another 40 minutes.  Mantou is best served warm, no need to cool down.  Store the balance in a sealed container.

To bake bread loaf: Bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 30 minutes.  Remove bread from bread tin immediately after baking and let it cool completely on a rack before slicing.  Store in a sealed container.

To bake slider buns: Bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 20 minutes, let it cool completely before storing in a sealed container.

7-Piece Zero Waste Bulk Grocery Shopping Kit

I have mentioned before that the wet markets and shops in the HDB heartlands offer some of the best bulk grocery solutions I have seen.  They may not have the stylish, neutral-themed interior of the zero-waste shops, but they will function every bit like one if you bring along your own reusable bags and containers.

I have since built up a “zero waste kit” for wet market shopping.  It is made up of upcycled items or containers that I already have at home.  Make the stuff you owned work harder!

++ Reusable Produce/Shopping Bags ++

Usually, I tell the stallholders to skip the plastic bags and place all the fresh produce into my reusable shopping bags. My purchases typically fill up one to two bags.  Anything more than that, I know that I have bought too much food.

// 01. Shopping Bags

I bring four of these foldable ones.  One for leafy greens only, another for hardy/heavier vegetables like cabbage, potatoes, pumpkins, bitter gourds, tomatoes; you wouldn’t want the leafy ones to be crushed.  The remaining two bags are for dry foods and others.  I wash them regularly to keep them clean.

//02. Produce Bags

I handsewn this cotton one to pack fresh mushrooms, but I have since been using it for any fresh produce that fits in it; shallots, garlic, kaffir limes, etc.

//03. Mesh Bags

These are not store-bought mesh bags. They are actually packaging for wholesale garlic.  The stallholders usually discard them after the contents have been emptied.

I requested for a few to be reuse as fruit bags.  They hold up to five oranges nicely.

++ Reusable Containers ++

// 04. CNY Goodies Bottles

These plastic bottles are lightweight and handy for packing nuts, beans, grains, dried mushrooms, goji berries, black and white fungus, etc. from the dry food store.  I usually plan ahead and bring along the number of containers required.

I don’t use mason jars when wet market shopping; the last thing I want is a broken-glass-incident at the market.

//05. Flour Container

Ever since I know the dry provision stall at the wet market I frequent sells flour in bulk, I have been avoiding pre-packed ones.  I bring along this airtight container when I want to buy flour.

//06. Tofu Container

I use either an airtight container (photo above) or another plastic container (below) upcycled from an ice cream box to buy my tofu without packaging.

They go straight into my fridge after shopping.

// 07.  Containers for Meat

Although I don’t eat meat, the rest of my family does.  However, they consume very little of it; I usually buy one or two types of meat, and those will last us the entire week.  Again, I will plan ahead what meat I am buying for my family, so they will fit nicely inside this 2-tier tiffin carrier.


Do you shop at the traditional wet markets too?  Do you find planning-ahead the best way to avoid plastic packaging as well as food waste?  Share you zero waste grocery shopping tip!