Make your Household Eco-Proof
- Wash your clothes slightly less and use cold water (or the eco-setting on your washing machine).
- Fill the sink with water as opposed to washing under a running tap.
- Use eco-friendly household cleaning products, including for the bathroom – Ecover and Ecoleaf can often be refilled at supermarkets/health food shops to avoid new packaging.
- Use natural bar soap for your hands and body, avoid the chemical liquid soap in plastic bottles.
Option: It’s easy to make your own soap, household cleaning products, toothpaste, deodorant, body lotions, laundry and dishwasher liquid… Ingredients are simple, e.g. vinegar, bicarbonate soda, soap nuts, chestnuts, essential oils or even ash and clay! More posts to come on this or ask me for recipes.
- Switch lights and radiators off in rooms that are not in use and put your central heating down by a couple of degrees (dress warmer if you’re cold).
- Switch to a renewable energy provider, e.g. Good Energy or Bulb. They are also a lot cheaper than the big energy companies!
- Switch to ethical banking and review where your investments, such as your pension, are going. There are plenty of green investment options these days.
- Minimise unnecessary consumption: Buy less, but buy better. For example, a pair of well-made shoes which will last and can be resoled. Think before you buy something: Do you need it? How was it made? What will happen when you’ve finished with it?
Use non-plastic substitutes where possible:
- Bamboo or horsehair toothbrushes.
- Glass or stainless steel as food containers, water bottles or returnable milk bottles.
- Reusable and biodegradable waxed cotton wraps instead of cling film (you can easily make these yourself).
- Reusable menstrual cup or washable cotton pads instead of disposable sanitary products.
- Avoid synthetic clothing material: leggings, fleeces and jumpers made from acrylic, polyester, polyamide, spandex and nylon shed up to 700,000 microplastics with each wash.
- Carpets/rugs/yoga mats are often made of plastic based materials, ensure you buy them made of natural wool, jute, cotton or rubber.
- Refuse the plastic straw in your drink and request food take away places use your containers instead of their disposable ones.
- Replace single-use plastic items such as razors, coffee cups or plastic utensils with sustainable alternatives – these also make great gifts!
Toothbrushes are just a single example. In the United States alone it is estimated that between 850 million, and over a billion toothbrushes, representing more than 50 million pounds of waste, are discarded and end up in land fills every single year. These toothbrushes are made from a combination of plastic (made from crude oil) and rubber for the hand piece, nylon for the bristles, and a mix of plastic and cardboard for the packaging. Currently none of these items are biodegradable, therefore they remain in landfills indefinitely. Worse, they end up in our oceans and washed up on our beaches or consumed by marine life. If they are burnt, they release a combination of toxic and greenhouse gases.
Refine the Recycling System
- Refresh your memory and check again on your specific council website what exactly is recyclable and what not (e.g. some councils accept plastic bags and pizza boxes, others don’t).
- If your council does not recycle plastic bags, however, don’t simply throw them away. Most big supermarkets have plastic bag collection points – find out.
- In particular, reuse plastic bags after emptying their recycling content into your main bin outside. Just replace the bag in the kitchen container again if it’s clean.
- Get your recycling right in order to avoid all your waste simply being incinerated as a results of some contaminating items. Containers must be rinsed clean to be recycled.
- Repair or up-cycle your broken or damaged things, e.g. T-shirts can be made into cotton bags to buy loose fruit and veg in, beach bags, cushion covers, headbands etc.
- Buy recycled clothes from charity shops, second-hand shops or swap shops.
- Acquire necessary plastic items secondhand instead of new from, for example, Freecycle, Gumtree or Craigslist.
- Use pencils or refillable fountain pens instead of plastic disposable pens.
Biodegradable vs. Compostable: Many people confuse these two. “Biodegradable” broadly means that an object can be biologically broken down. However, it will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink and not be exposed to UV and be able to break down. “Compostable” means it breaks down into CO2, water and biomass at the same rate as cellulose disintegration i.e. into non toxic compost or humus. However, many compostable plastic bags degrade only in industrial-scale composting plants, not in home compost bins. Generally speaking neither can be recycled because the biodegradable additives that allow it to break down contaminate the recycling process.
Buy Local, Seasonal & Unpackaged
- Check what fruit and veg are in season, e.g. kiwis, oranges, lemons are O.K. to buy in the Winter in Europe. Tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines in Summer and Autumn.
- Check what country food comes from and buy local where possible, e.g. bananas, avocados and ginger come from far away for us in Europe – buy these in modesty if you can’t resist them entirely (you can also grow your own ginger).
- Reject packaged fruit and veg (also for pulses, rice, pasta, tea etc) and buy them loose where possible. Bring your own little bags for this. Alternatively, buy packaged goods in bulk size only.
- Cheap organic food in supermarkets is thanks to big corporations bullying and forcing farmers to lower their prices to unsustainable levels. Better to buy from local independent shops, local farmers, or local veg box schemes. These usually come less packaged too and you can return containers for berries, tomatoes, eggs etc to the farmer’s market/veg box scheme to be reused.
Change your Diet
Don’t worry, I’m not a vegan on a mission to convert you, but the graph is pretty self explanatory – basically we should eat less animal based products (at least from unsustainable sources). We know this already, no? But perhaps less known to some: cheese. It takes a lot of milk to make just a little cheese. Dairy cows release large amounts of methane, which is a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Then there are all the other negative effects of mass livestock rearing. Also, the harder the cheese the longer the dehydration process and kilos of CO2 emissions to make it.
A kilo of English cheddar is almost 3 times worse for the environment than a kilo of kiwi’s imported to the UK from New Zealand – seriously, I checked this up after arguing with my boyfriend about him buying kiwis out of season from New Zealand instead of waiting for the Italian winter fruit to come around.
So, cut down on hard cheeses in particular. If you must eat cheese, opt for lower-fat soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, morzarella or gouda (locally sourced and organic is best), or make your own soft cheese at home! You can also make your own nut cheeses or vegetable-based milk, such as oats and almond milk – it’s super easy.
Buy sustainably sourced seafood only. I can’t emphasise this enough. In European waters nearly 90% of fish stocks are over-fished. According to the UN, 71-78% of the world’s stocks are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Especially tuna fish, avoid those cans! At our current rate of consumption some predict that almost all our fish stocks will collapse by 2050. Here is the Marine Conservation Society’s helpful Good Fish Guide on what seafood to eat and what to avoid.
The Marine Stewardship Council label is an independent sustainability label which indicates that seafood has been sourced using methods which minimise impacts upon the marine environment and fish stocks. The MSC’s standards comply with UN guidelines on eco-labeling.
The RSPCA welfare standards cover all aspects of the fish’s lives, including health, diet, environment, care and handling. The RSPCA Assured label makes it easy to recognise products from animals that have had a “better life”. The RSPCA welfare standards for salmon and trout – which must be met for fish to be labelled RSPCA Assured – ensure the fish are healthier and less stressed. The standards require good water quality and careful handling procedures which ensure the health and welfare of the fish.
When you spend money realise that how you spend it shapes the world, so buy local, independent, natural, unpackaged, fairtrade, ethical and sustainable to strive for something better.