How I fixed my favourite cast iron pan with Sugru

Sugru to fix cast iron pan

We’ve had this beauty for four years now. Secondhand to us, broken on adoption. Most people don’t choose to acquire broken items, but we’d just moved here from Canada and I was trying to stay frugal. I really wanted to get back to using cast iron after giving up teflon pans, with their unimpressive lifespans and bird killing fumes, years earlier. Besides, this specimen could still do what cast iron is best at – park on an element, retain heat, and be the best and most bombproof pan I know for cooking all sorts of food.

The older a cast iron, the smoother and more stick resistant the surface. Some say vintage is best. This pan isn’t vintage, just used, but still. And we follow no rules. Metal utensils, soap, acidic food – bring it on. It sort of gets more or less seasoned depending on what we’ve been cooking, but no matter what I do, the pan itself will outlive all of us.

Except for the handle. Which was evidently the reason it was up for grabs.

Sugru to fix cast iron pan

Sugru to fix cast iron pan

This pan has a heatsafe wooden handle that wraps around a metal rod, which screws into the base of the pan. Somehow the wood has become swollen and cracked, probably from sitting in water. As a result, the wooden part no longer fits tightly around the metal rod. I can’t properly tilt the pan, as the wooden part just slips loosely around the metal when I try.

The broken handle mostly doesn’t bother me, except if I’m moving the pan around or trying to pour something from pan to plate. Lately with child safety on the brain, I started to wonder how I might fix it.

I thought Sugru, billed as the ‘self setting rubber’, or ‘mouldable glue’ depending on which of their marketing materials you look at, could be my best solution. I’d heard of this product years ago during the crowdfunding campaign. It definitely made me curious, but I’d never had a reason to try it, and I’d never seen it in my day to day life either.

Sugru to fix cast iron pan

My handle project met all of the Sugru parameters. The materials are wood and metal, and the rod doesn’t get hotter than the heat limit (nor does the wood).

I ordered from Sugru’s UK shop since none of the local sellers had expiry dates into the future, and those who’ve used it all cautioned that the expiry was critical to success. I ordered two packs of 3 small portions for a total of 6 individual portions for 25 AUD which included a small amount for shipping. The packages are quite small, which is why I thought I might need the whole lot, but in the end I only used two. I chose black, to blend in with the singed wooden handle.

Sugru to fix cast iron pan

Sugru starts to set within 30 minutes, so it was important to have my workspace and project laid out before opening the package.  I had a few backup projects, like broken wiring, nearby in case I had extra Sugru to use up from an opened package. And then I went to work on fixing my favourite pan.

Sugru to fix cast iron pan
Opening the first of two packages I would use for the project.
Sugru to fix cast iron pan
Pressing the Sugru into the too loose area inside the handle.
Sugru to fix cast iron pan
Inserting the rod back through the wooden portion.
Sugru to fix cast iron pan
Screwing the rod back into the pan.
Sugru to fix cast iron pan
Part one done, now time to fill in the handle to be flush with the wood.
Sugru to fix cast iron pan
I did this part with a second sachet of Sugru.
Sugru to fix cast iron pan
Time to leave it to set overnight.

Did Sugru work?

I started the project in the afternoon on a Saturday and checked the next morning. Not quite 24 hours as Sugru suggests, but I couldn’t wait to see if it had worked.

It worked! The fill hardened and all seemed to be fused together – wood, metal and this clever mouldable glue. I can tilt the pan 90 or 180 degrees an back with control. I’m pretty pleased about it. Now that it’s been a few days I’m starting to understand how much I must’ve been compensating for the handle. It’s so stable now, so comfortable. For $8 worth of material and a few minutes of my time, this was definitely a worthwhile fix.

Sugru to fix cast iron pan

I’ve always intrinsically valued the act of restoration. I’ve preferred a patina of use over brand-newness. My interest in reducing waste has only deepened my pleasure and delight in fixing favourite things and keeping them out of landfill.

I have a few more ideas for using the remaining Sugru. The expiry is 13 months away and this would make for a a fun fixer-noon with friends.

Have you ever tried Sugru? What was your experience? What’s the best thing you ever fixed?

Plastic free: my working definition

plastic free berries

It’s impossible to live without plastic, many are quick to point out. They’re not wrong. Some respond to this critique with, I’m low waste, not zero waste, I’ll never be zero waste or plastic free.

Consider this: if you can play tennis without being Serena Williams, then you can #plasticfree without being Bea Johnson. The threshold is participation, not perfection. The label isn’t the problem, it’s the expectation and judgement we heap upon ourselves and others for anything less than zero. Let’s keep the word and drop the apologies. Labels are just a way for people to find communities of interest to connect with – i.e. a good servant, but a bad master. I regret that #plasticfree sounds more like an arrival than an intention for the journey. Or that it provokes a comparison that can be demotivating to many who feel they may never ‘achieve’ to the same degree. However, I don’t think the solution is to split hairs, or to beat ourselves up.

The truth about zero waste and plastic free living is that it’s only partly about the individual. Success of these movements won’t hinge upon willpower and motivation, but upon permanently changing defaults. We must change paths, not people by providing the amenities (bike lanes, bulk shops, compost collection, effective recycling) and encouraging social norms that make good individual habits flourish.

What’s possible for me in a place like Sydney may not be to you, yet. A visit to Oahu years ago brought this point home when the vast majority of food at the only grocer near us was imported and over-packaged, and the other option was Costco (I’m crying). Our rental had no recycling or compost facilities either. Devastating. And a reminder that the barriers imposed by our surroundings can stymie even the most motivated.

The areas where I have the most success, are – no surprise – those where I have the most autonomy, choice and ease.

riseaboveplastics

That’s how I got started. I vowed to never ask for a takeaway cup, bottle of water or grocery bag after getting involved with the Surfrider Foundation. Then I eliminated new plastic containers from personal care products when I discovered The Soap Dispensary. I learned about responsible problem waste disposal in my area. I started looking for refill options for food, and now I habitually live with less plastic than a decade ago. I have permanently changed my norms, over a long time, helped by amenities available to me.

Am I plastic free? No.

While I’m constantly curious about ways to further reduce packaging, I don’t stress about what I’m not able to control. Like when I replaced my burnt out oven light. I also don’t stress about the choices I make with eyes wide open. Like when I chose to eat tofu packaged in soft plastic, buy replacement electric toothbrush heads, and donate blood. Plus many other examples.

To me, #plasticfree means any of:

  • Less plastic
  • No new plastic
  • Plastic free, mostly
  • Better managed plastic
  • No single-use plastic
  • No non-essential single use plastic
  • Reducing the impact of plastic on the environment

If you ever feel a pedantic urge to remind yourself that say, the lid of the glass jar you’re reusing may indeed be lined with a thin layer of plastic, take a deep breath and mentally swap #plasticfree to any of these alternative explanations. What we’re aiming for is so much bigger than perfect control over our immediate surroundings.

#plasticfree is about a future free from unnecessary plastic. It’s a shared vision of a future where new plastic is not produced in the quantities it is today, where the default option is unpackaged, and where the material is used only in intelligent, long lasting ways.

Consider too that plastic free living may involve avoiding new plastic, but we can deepen our practice in many other meaningful ways, such as:

  • Reusing and finding creative uses for plastic we already have.
  • Disposing of plastics in the most responsible option available to you where you live.
  • Picking up litter.
  • Learning more about the myriad impacts of plastic on humans, landscapes, and wildlife.
  • Observing how other people shop and live.
  • Supporting plastic reduction initiatives that make it easier for everybody to reduce plastic, like bag bans.
  • Chatting with business owners about reducing or eliminating straws and disposables.
  • Joining or starting initiatives and work or school to reduce plastic use.
  • Starting a business that helps others reduce their plastic.
  • Supporting a business that helps others reduce their plastic.
  • Normalising the attention paid to waste management by chatting with friends and family.

I’ll share one quick example about my friend Bryce, a low key legend. One day on a hike he saw that park staff were using plastic as a fill material for trail maintenance. He contacted BC Parks to suggest an alternative and explained why he felt plastic was problematic. This led to a productive conversation that resulted in them changing to a better material. Proof that there are many ways to work towards a world with less unnecessary plastic.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you find that labels, stories and symbols of extreme plastic free living inspire you, or demotivate you?

Wishcycling: when good intentions go wrong

wishcycling

Wishcycling is wishful thinking recycling. It’s when we put things in the yellow bin that we hope or assume are recyclable, but aren’t.

Our eagerness to divert from landfill (or inattention) can lead to fouled up machinery at processing facilities and unsafe conditions for workers. Putting the wrong things in the recycling bin also makes it likely the load will end up in landfill. So we achieve nothing and pay twice. This threatens the viability of our recycling infrastructure.

Would it surprise you to know that I’ve been guilty of wishcycling? We sometimes buy same day discounted trays of meat, since I can’t stomach the thought of all those growing resources, plus an animal’s life, wasted. But in spite of the familiar recycling symbol stamped onto the back of the tray, black trays aren’t recyclable at the Material Recycling Facility (MRF). The machinery can’t ‘see’ the black against the black conveyor belt.

What I’ve been doing is jeopardising my council’s kerbside recycling program, with the best of intentions. More examples of wishcycling include plastic bags, takeaway coffee cups, nappies and syringes – none of these by me, I assure you.

coffee cup
This cup is sad because he’s not recyclable at kerbside.

We’re making guesses, and we’re wrong around 10% of the time. which is 9.5% too much of the time for the Chinese markets we’ve relied on to process much of our recycling bin contents.

Why is recycling so confusing?

There are many factors making it difficult for us to get recycling right.

We learn recycling behaviours as children, then move to different council areas or even countries as adults. In Sydney, relatively small council areas with different waste contracts make it hard to keep up if you move suburbs. It’s hard to forget a rule we’ve internalised.

Then of course, many of us live in multi-unit apartment buildings, where anonymity makes it tricky for councils to provide targeted feedback to a household that’s not getting it right.

And then we have manufacturers and packaging designers creating stuff that is just hard to recycle. By creating packaging from more two recyclable materials fused together, or by using materials that can’t be recycled kerbside or even through special alternative streams.

And how about the numbering printed on the bottom of containers? These indicate the resin type, not necessarily that something can be recycled. Recyclability depends on size, composition and cleanliness as well as the technical recyclability of the material. For example: a pizza box both might or might not be recyclable, because it depends whether it’s greasy or not. You can recycle the top, if it’s pristine, but a greasy box – even a tiny amount – should go to the worms or in the red bin. Pizza boxes should have this printed on them. Oh and obviously, if your MRF can’t process the material, it doesn’t matter if your packaging meets all the other requirements.

In Sydney I’ve noticed that commingled recycling is common. Where I grew up in Vancouver, we’ve source separated recycling as far back as I remember. How do the systems compare? Here’s a comparison of contamination rates in cities across Canada and how it relates to whether a city asks residents to commingle or sort. Commingling is intended to increase participation rates in recycling, but at what cost?

But it’s not all bad news.

Why the recycling crisis could be a good thing

There is a silver lining to all of this, as I see it. Wishing for something doesn’t make it true, but our wishes demonstrate desire. As Les Robinson reminds us, people usually want to do the right thing – sometimes it’s just not that clear what the right thing is. Wishcycling tells me that most of us value recycling as a service and wish more materials could be diverted from landfill.

Also, I’m buoyed that we’re starting to pay attention and talk about solutions. Contamination isn’t a new problem, we just didn’t have to pay for it before. The news of the Chinese Sword policy, limiting the level of contamination to a near impossible 0.5%, has rippled into mainstream media. No surprise, since it affects every single Australian. Thailand has made overtures about following suit on some categories of waste. Why is this good news? Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom to realise there’s a need for change.

Cleaner recycling streams create opportunities

Recycling really depends on there being a market for a material as a manufacturing input, whether it’s a tire, food scraps or a plastic bottle. The cleaner the stream, the more likely something useful can be made out of it.

Cleaning up our recycling stream opens the door to easier recycled product manufacturing, so we can buy more recycled products.

There are plenty of reasonable things we can do with plastic. For example, Replas makes fenceposts from soft plastics that last longer and need less maintenance than their wood predecessors. Another example: my parents bought two recycled plastic lounge chairs four years ago and they’re in pristine condition. Waste was reused, they were made in Canada, and no trees were harmed.

recycled plastic chairs

Researchers at UNSW are exploring interesting ideas for local recycling, such as micro-factories. These could provide stable employment opportunites in regional areas, while dealing with municipal and other problem wastes (perhaps ocean trash).

The rise of non-MRF single stream recycling schemes is more cause for hope. TerraCycle empowers brands with products that can’t be recycled through a MRF to offer recycling schemes directly to customers. I’m talking about toothpaste tubes, contact lens, and makeup containers. Aussie eyewear company Dresden is recycling milk tops and ghost fishing nets into modular frames.

How to counteract wishcycling

First, check your own knowledge base.

  • Get familiar with your council area’s dos and don’ts as a first step. If the info is confusing or has big gaps, don’t be afraid to contact the council to ask for clarification.
  • Some councils will offer recycling workshops or tours of the recycling facility, where you can see how recycling is processed.
  • City or regionally focused Zero Waste groups on Facebook are a fount of local knowledge about alternative recycling schemes.
  • Recyclingnearyou.com.au is a great resource
  • Keep learning in any way you can. I’m deeply engaged in the topic of waste, but still wrong from time to time.

Next, if you notice there’s lots of wishcycling happening in your unit block, you may be able to download signage from your council with the big no-no items, like plastic bags. It won’t solve the problem completely, but may help build knowledge and familiarity for how things are done.

More good news: the Australasian Recycling Label is coming

On the horizon is the launch of the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL), the result of a collaboration between Planet Ark and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation. The ARL is a labelling scheme to end confusion by making packaging recycling and disposal options more consistent and clear across the country. Look for the label on everyday products this spring.

Source: https://planetark.org/recyclinglabel/index.cfm
Source: https://planetark.org/recyclinglabel/index.cfm

The program is voluntary, but so far response from industry has been positive. Many brands want to improve recycling outcomes and now they have a tool. Part of the process is a feedback loop to packaging designers. They’ll get a better idea of the impact of their packaging choices and have the opportunity to design for recyclability from the beginning. For example, using a clear rather than black meat tray.

Tell me, what confuses you about recycling?

On solar capacity, and the capacity for behaviour change

solar panel

On a recent visit to Canada, my dad proudly showed me his new rooftop solar panels.

His system includes a dashboard to check the daily power output. Sunny days show a dramatic spike and fall as the sun hits the panels, while overcast days produce a lower peak, but generate energy over a longer period. They’ll pay for themselves in 25 years based on current electricity prices, and fewer if power prices go up (and is there any other way?). Unused power goes back into the grid, reducing my parents’ bill.

This whole business is exciting yet surprising.

My dad likes the natural world and all. He grew up hunting, fishing and bushwhacking in northern Ontario. He gets great enjoyment from spotting eagles, hawks and hummingbirds. He follows salmon runs the way some follow sports. He would tell my siblings and I that BC is the best place on earth long before it became the province’s advertising slogan. He even tries to remember his shopping bags when he hits the grocery store.

And yet, he’s no greenie.

Nowadays my dad’s natural habitat is Costco. He’s been investing in tar sands projects since before they started breaking even. He suggested to me on this visit that I invest in Enbridge, builder of pipelines. We disagree on a few things.

Conversations with my dad about renewables devolve like clockwork into a debate about whether oil extraction or wind turbines kill more birds. If you’d asked me to picture him installing solar panels on his own roof, I’d have fallen off my chair laughing.

I was genuinely curious to know what prompted him to install rooftop solar. Did Costco sell them? No, he said, a radio ad from a local roofing company had laid out a strong argument. Apparently he’d been considering them for a while and finally decided it was the right time and the economics would make sense. I’d like to think my years long campaign of emailed news articles and about the growth and benefits of solar helped.

The company from the radio offered a free site assessment and prepared several possible output scenarios to choose from based on different amounts of hardware. Even in notoriously overcast Vancouver, the solar panels are projected to save a significant amount.The ancient Douglas Firs on their property don’t help, but neither do they hinder energy generation as much as expected. My parents have already saved one tonne of CO2 in two months, equivalent to removing a car from the road.

My dad didn’t change, but his behaviour did when the product and the message evolved to better suit him. It’s become much cheaper, less risky. The decision was steeped in pragmatism, rather than belief, political affiliation or even widespread social norms – in fact, he’s the first in his neighbourhood. In the Diffusion of Innovation model, he’s part of the early majority for solar panel adoption.

I shouldn’t have underestimated his capacity for new behaviour. After all, everyone holds seemingly contradictory viewpoints. It was me who needed to stay openminded. He still says he doesn’t like the look of them, but I suspect his stance will soften there too.