Way back in the dim mists of time, when the small one napped for two hours a day in his bed and this blog was the only writing I was doing, I did a series called Saturday Switch. This was a little summary (weekly initially… then, not so often) of an easy (ish) switch we’ve done at home to live more sustainably.
This was the first one, about washing up, and I was SO happy at how many views it got! Something about my dish washing habits seemed to capture the imagination of thousands. Well, hundreds. Well, 46, actually. But I was excited at the time, and still am at every view I get, to be honest. (Read to the end of the post to see just why I’m so bloody grateful to you lot for reading my ramblings for the last year).
Anyway. We bought these plastic-free scrubby things over a year ago, and they’re faring quite well.
Admittedly one of them is looking a bit scraggy, but I think a bit of a trim will sort it out and they have plenty of service left in them. And according to my previous calculations, we should have broken even on this financially somewhere around the year point (we never bought the cheapest disposable pan scrubbers, but I don’t think we changed them weekly…)
Alongside this, I’m still trying to avoid using 27 mugs per day, and just sticking to one mug, one glass and one tea spoon, in a bid to make the most expensive dishwasher in the world maximally efficient and eco-friendly. More about the original revelation on this here. (Also, I got it wrong about bamboo crockery and cutlery going in the dishwasher. Seems that it’s fine. Not so fine when it gets chucked across the room, but that’s another story).
We’ve also become Splosh devotees. I did as much due diligence as I could on the various options available for dishwasher tablets and we tried the Splosh ones and really liked them. Yes, they are three times the price of Aldi dishwasher tablets, and yes, in this case going plastic-free is a sign of privilege. I try to remember this when I write this stuff, because I know for some people it’s not possible to make these switches, especially at the moment when a lot of people’s income has been affected by the pandemic.
And this is why I’m not doing a PLASTIC-FREE JULY post because I’m an epic ECO BLOGGER blah blah. Because for most people, the absolutist nature of this is a load of crap, frankly. We’re not going to go completely plastic-free. We couldn’t afford it and my brain can’t cope with it. But little by little we will get better.
So if you can afford it, or you can cut back elsewhere to make it happen, then I do recommend Splosh. We like their laundry detergent and cleaning stuff too. The washing up liquid and hand wash is a bit annoying and gloopy (it comes in recyclable refill pouches that you mix with warm water) but it’s effective and it smells nice, so we are persevering. And I’m pretty convinced that in it’s diluted form, it doesn’t kill fish.
So I think that might be the final chapter of the dish washing story. Hope you enjoyed it!
Meanwhile I’m getting quite a bit of paid writing work now. So a massive thank you to the followers of this blog – writing this stuff gave me the confidence to pitch for paid stuff, and it’s going well, so I’m grateful for every view, every like, every comment and every share.
Also, this old chestnut from the Everyday Radical greatest hits got retweeted last night by The Skeptical Ob, so I’m experiencing something of a surge in views. I will try to write something equally controversial and shouty soon, so as not to disappoint any new followers!
I can’t remember if I shared the gleeful news as it happened, at the beginning of lock-down, when my son GAVE UP napping in his bed. Totally. Just refused to lie down and go the f**k to sleep. So since March, I’ve been roaming the streets of our estate for an hour every day (whatever the weather… lucky me), to get him to nap in his buggy. Whilst agonising if actually I should really be letting him drop his nap, but also agonising about the loss of the hour to myself, even if it’s no longer at home. I joined Audible (I got two months free on a special lock-down offer I think) and I’ve been listening to all sorts of erudite books, including this whopper of a romp through English history, and some great stuff by Dan Jones. I’m also slightly overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge available in The Great Courses series. I literally do not have enough time left to me on this planet to learn about all the things I want to learn about.
Anyway. Walking around the estate. So, where we live is a part of South East London which is not quite yet gentrified, I think it would be fair to say. We have an organic greengrocer but no decent coffee. So it’s far from being a place of universal middle-class privilege (I wrote about plastic-free choices, privilege and the pandemic a few weeks ago, here).
Like a lot of communities, there has been a major rubbish problem round here. Fly-tipping, over-flowing wheelie bins, litter in the streets, gloves and masks discarded on the pavement. And I’ve spent a lot of time walking past it and around it, and thinking about why it’s there and what we could do differently as a society.
First, the wheelie bins. They’re over-flowing because there have been a few weeks when waste collections have been missed (due, presumably, to staff shortages within the refuse collection teams). So, would that rubbish have been there anyway, and just taken away more promptly, or is there more of it during the pandemic, because people are at home? Is it only seen a problem because it’s now visible?
In normal times, maybe all that stuff would just have been transported to the waste management centre more promptly, so we wouldn’t see it. The unrecyclable stuff would still have been incinerated. The recyclable stuff would still have the carbon footprint of energy use during the recycling process, or end up not being recycled and being shipped overseas (this hasn’t gone away, folks). Is there more rubbish because we’re all at home more? But does it matter whether I’m buying M & S ready-made salads to eat at home, or having them out and about from Pret? (I don’t actually do either, much, but you get my point – a plastic tub still gets put into the waste stream, somewhere, as a result of someone’s lunch, wherever they have it). And there’s more litter on the streets because the bins are all full, so it blows around.
The fundamental point I’m trying to make here is that the rubbish is still a problem, whether it’s in the bin or on the pavement. Yes, maybe it’s more likely to be recycled if the bins aren’t over-flowing so that people can use the correct bins. But I have to say this now – our bins haven’t been overflowing at all during the lock-down and we’ve recycled as much as ever. So why don’t other people? Why did I see a rusty barbecue in someone’s food waste bin yesterday? Is the problem a lack of knowledge? Or people just don’t care? Or they’ve been so determined to declutter during lockdown and there’s no other exit route at the moment (or there wasn’t before the tip and the charity shops reopened) that they’ll put it anywhere to get rid of it. Are people SO devoted to Marie Kondo?
So what do we do? I am obviously perfect in every way. All my rubbish goes in the correct bins, all recycling is washed and dried, food waste bin is used appropriately, any stuff to be donated or taken to the tip is stored until we can get it out of the house responsibly. (OF COURSE I’m not perfect by the way. I bought three tubs of M and S salad yesterday as a treat when I could have just bought a lettuce, some tomatoes and some mayonnaise. Those tubs might end up in the sea. Nothing is simple). But how do we influence people who dispose of their rubbish irresponsibly?
Would you challenge someone who you saw dropping litter? I sure as hell wouldn’t, but I know people who would, and I have huge admiration for them. Would you knock on someone’s door and attempt to educate them, if you saw their bins full of the wrong stuff? (Things I’ve seen this week – a food/garden waste bin FULL of clothes, a recycling bin over-flowing with building waste, and another one with a birdcage in. We live in an eclectic area, for sure). I wouldn’t knock on someone’s door, but I think I am going to write to the Council and suggest that more education is needed about what bins to use. Last time I raised this with them, they said all the information was available on their website – this doesn’t seem to be enough. Should people be fined for using the wrong bins and dropping litter? Yes, sure, but do local authorities in Tory Britain have enough manpower for this…? Um, no.
On my latest to do list is to remind myself of the work of these fine people and see how I can get more involved – anyone remember that song from the 80s we used to sing in school about not dumping rubbish? Keep the countryside tidy, keep the countryside clean…. I can’t find it on YouTube and it’s annoying me! Is this stuff taught in schools anymore? I have no idea – except that my two year old knows how to throw his snack wrapper in a bin, and knows which one of our bins is for recycling.
Fundamentally, we’ve got a choice to make in this journey towards sustainability. Either we just focus on our own households, and try to ignore other people’s bad behaviour, or we think about ways to influence others to live in a way which is less damaging to the environment. Like, we could choose to sit in judgement over people for buying fast fashion, and queuing up outside Primark when it reopened (I’m going to come back to this for another post, cos I’m still cross about it), while being all smug about the organic cotton baby clothes we buy for our kids and our fabulous charity shop finds (which we are lucky enough to have time to hunt out). Or we can try to empathise about why some people are dependent on cheap clothing shops, and think creatively about how to make sustainable clothing more accessible to everyone.
But I draw the line somewhere. If you went to Bournemouth beach and left your own excrement there in a nappy bag for someone else to clear up, you’re a prat. If you’ve ever thrown your potentially contaminated mask and gloves on the pavement for someone else to pick up, you’re a prat.
And if you’re the person who’s responsible for this random pile of nonsense in my local park, you’re definitely a prat. I’d love to know how we can de-pratify the sections of society that think this is ok, but honestly, some days I don’t have much hope. If anyone has any brilliant litter-busting ideas to share, I would love to hear them!
I’m just revisiting some old posts on the blog, for nostalgic kicks. This one was the first post I ever wrote with actual content, after the intro post when I started the blog. The bit about my son yelling “banannnnash!” has made me laugh, as he tells us off now if we add “sh” to the ends of words as he used to say them – “it’s eggies, mummy, not eggiesh!”
We stopped going to the village greengrocer for absolutely ages during lock down (I say “village” – I mean, not-quite-gentrified-yet high street in zone three). It’s a very small shop and it remained quite well stocked throughout the panic-buying stage, as far as we could tell from the local grapevine, so had huge queues for a good few weeks. Then we felt like we couldn’t go in there with the pushchair, due to the risk of things being touched/licked by the small one. And I honestly missed it so much, our almost daily little trips out to buy brocoli and bananas and cabbage. And chat to another grown-up for five minutes.
So we did supermarket online click and collect shopping for a while, including fruit and vegetables, but the plastic just depressed me, and my husband refused to partake in any further ecobrick-related activities. So we got ourselves sorted out with a veg box. The first one we bought was super expensive, from a New Covent Garden supplier who in normal times supplies restaurants. And it wasn’t organic or plastic-free. So I switched to Abel and Cole and I have to say I’m pretty impressed so far. Their Twitter help person is amazing and has been super-responsive to all my newbie queries. Their packaging is almost entirely plastic-free – either small cardboard punnets which can go in the recycling, or compostable “non-plastic” bags, or the bigger cardboard boxes can be returned via the delivery driver for reuse. The fruit and veg is all organic and tastes amazing. The scheme is flexible so you can swap different boxes for different weeks and skip weeks if you want to, and add top-up produce. It’s varied so you have to be prepared to learn how to cook new stuff – beetroot and squash surprise, anyone? And while it’s not all local/British produce, everything is shipped on water rather than transported by air, which does reduce the carbon footprint considerably (their all-British veg box is unavailable at the moment). Honestly I’m not sure I’m brave enough right now to just eat local, which I guess involves a lot of turnips and swede, but maybe this is something to aim towards.
BUT, it’s undeniably more expensive than Asda. Going plastic-free is a privilege and going organic is a luxury. I’ve written about this before, here. I just cashed up the latest Abel and Cole veg box contents vs. what it would cost in Asda, and it is twice the price. Maybe the same produce would be equivalent price, or cheaper, at a local market, but that in itself requires the relative privilege of being able to food shop during the day on a weekday (i.e. not having to be at work, not having to drag multiple children around with you, not being scared of going outside in the current context of lock down being eased but people behaving like Covid never happened).
We are back in the habit of going to the local greengrocer now more regularly, since the team there protested to me how much they missed seeing the small one (did I mention how cute and funny he is?) So maybe we will scale back slightly on the deliveries, but either way we are accepting paying a plastic-free premium for what we believe is the right course of action, and cutting down our spends elsewhere to accommodate that.
I’m wondering, as usual, what else we can do? I feel like I want to revisit all the protests and letter campaigns to supermarkets that grew out of the outrage generated from the War on Plastic program which aired this time last year. Did it make any difference? What else can be done? Does anyone care anymore? The state of Bournemouth beach this week suggests that a LOT of people don’t care. More of that in a few days.
Meanwhile, tell me about your fruit and vegetable habits in the comments. And your favourite way to cook rainbow chard…
No, I’m not talking about tripping over a plastic aubergine on the living room floor, or breaking up toddler fights over the play kitchen at playgroup. Although that’s an everyday challenge I face too.
There’s been palpable shock-waves on social media from people who watched the first episode of BBC’s The War on Plastic last week, presented by Anita Rani and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, particularly in relation to the truth about what’s happening to some of our kerbside recycling. A recycling bag from Essex finding its way into the Malaysian jungle is a staggeringly shocking thing.
We’re always been avid recyclers and I still believe there’s a place for recycling, with an improved understanding of the end-to-end process and taking full responsibility for our own waste. Exporting it to developing countries who don’t even have their own kerbside recycling (I had a reference for this in relation to Malaysia somewhere and…
It’s just over a year ago that I started writing this blog… as is tradition, I mark anniversaries and special occasions about a week late on this blog, and I’m six days overdue. Here’s the inaugural post from 15th June 2019.
It strikes me as a bit idealistic and naive, reading it now, a year on; especially considering the many challenges 2020 has brought us so far. It’s not easy to change your lifestyle to be more sustainable within our culture the way it is now, with so many messages telling us to spend and consume and upgrade. In terms of our household, we have made some progress, though not as much as I’d hoped (but then I’m a perfectionist with a strong drive mentality and I give myself a hard time every day for not doing enough to save the world, alongside the usual mum guilt). So as the weeks pass and last year’s posts pop up, I will be revisiting them them and updating on how we’ve done with each change and exploring the possible next steps we might take.
This blog may not have made me rich yet, but there’s 180 of you out there following me, so thanks to all of you for your support! I’ve learnt this year that building a sizeable blog following takes a huge amount of time and commitment, and there’s some promotional activity I don’t really want to engage with (I have no desire to write sponsored posts, for example!) and I haven’t got time to spam the hell out of Twitter for follows and views and all that. So it’s a slow burn, but I hope that those of you who read it find it helpful and interesting, and maybe funny sometimes – I make myself laugh, anyway.
I started this blog after the XR London protests last year, but I was already primed to be thinking about an output for my writing, thanks to a long and brilliant chat with my friend John as we walked along a hillside on the island of Paros, Greece. So thank you John also for giving me the encouragement to get started with writing! I’m exploring a bunch of other writing avenues at the moment, and one day someone might even pay me for writing something, and that will be cause for celebration at Everyday Radical Towers, for sure!
I’m going to mark the start of year two of the blog by writing something a bit ranty about Primark tomorrow – not exactly what you might imagine, so watch this space.
Thanks again for the follows and shares and comments and likes and encouragement and challenges and everything, dear readers! Let’s crack on with saving the world, one yoghurt pot at a time.
I was prompted by someone on Twitter to write about this – it’s been on the (very long) list for a while now.
It’s a bit of a thorny issue and something which gets quite a lot of discussion already – it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to say anything that has never been said before on this, but you never know.
Here’s the question. Is it the premise of the middle classes only (and presumably those richer than the middle class) to make plastic-free choices? Is it possible to be poor and still go plastic-free? When, for example, a plastic-free deodorant costs maybe two or three times the price of a plastic roll-on bought in a supermarket? (I tried, I really did… I will do a final report on the Great Deodorant Experiment one day). When supermarkets charge more for loose fruit and vegetables than they do for the produce wrapped in plastic? (This article discusses why that might be the case).
A couple of things have happened recently which have made me think about this issue, particularly in relation to fruit and vegetable shopping. It is of course a much wider issue than just food choices, but I’ve seen some eco-influencers (with sexy Instagram accounts and monetised blogs, so they must be doing something right) saying that they have massively reduced their food spend since implementing changes to live more sustainably. They manage to shop mainly organic and plastic-free (including, as one of them mentioned, the fortnightly Ocado shop…) and still save money.
So here’s our little story. As I posted way back many moons ago when this blog was in its infancy, we like to go to our local greengrocers for our fruit and veg as much as possible, to get predominantly organic and plastic-free produce. I very rarely buy produce in the supermarket now. In normal times, going to the greengrocer is an almost daily outing – the small one loves it, I get to speak to a grown-up, there’s no plastic wrapping to deal with, everyone’s a winner. But at the moment it’s hard for us to manage these trips – I can’t take the boy in the buggy and maintain social distancing and safety, as he’s still small and touches or licks things and it’s just too stressful. My husband can’t easily go during the daytime and the shop is running reduced opening hours to protect their staff, which is totally understandable. So we’ve been buying fruit and veg from the supermarket and oh my god the plastic is a pain in the arse to put in the ecobrick. So in the spirit of my recent ecobricking resolutions, I decided to do something about it and order us a fruit and veg box. And here it is, in all its glory.
Critical point to mention – it’s from a New Covent Garden supplier, who normally sell produce to restaurants, but in the current situation they are using their supply chain to get produce directly to customers at home. So they’re not marketing themselves as plastic-free, local or seasonal. This medium sized fruit and veg box cost £32 and to be fair, it is amazing quality and will probably last us nearly two weeks. BUT. I put the same produce into the online shopping calculator on the Asda website and it’s half the price. Also, it’s not completely plastic-free, as you can see in the picture. (Only the salad bag, herbs, cucumber, bananas and some of the potatoes were in plastic though, and of course in the supermarket nearly all of it would be in plastic packaging.) And it’s not seasonal or local.
Other cheaper veg boxes are available – for example the Oddbox equivalent medium box is £14.99. This is a brilliant initiative to reduce food waste by selling imperfect produce rejected by supermarkets. It’s local and seasonal and all packaging is recyclable. But they only cover the London area and they deliver overnight – I want to try them out but I have concerns that our box would get nicked or ravaged by foxes before we got to it. Riverford is also cheaper and much better on the plastic and local produce front. But they’re running a waiting list at the moment and I believe you have to commit to a regular order. So there is more research to be done.
But, back to the privilege point. We all have to buy food. Most people buy food in a supermarket because it’s a cheap option – Mr Tesco et al have massive economies of scale that smaller shops struggle to replicate. We also shop in supermarkets because it’s easy – it’s all there in one place, they’re open long hours and you don’t have to think too much or make lots of decisions. So, in my view, privilege is about more than just money. Sure, you can probably find a veg box which is a similar price point to supermarkets, and maybe a refill shop where some things are cheaper and some things are more expensive, so it evens out – remember my surprisingly cheap organic thyme? So much of this, though, depends on time (see what I did there?) and choice, and that’s the crux of privilege. Time to do the research for the best veg box, and time to go to four different shops each week to get what you need, not to mention the financial head room to pay the plastic-free premium where it does exist. (Do families need to be in a position to have a stay at home parent to actually pull this off? Usually a woman? Is plastic a feminist issue…? Why does every post I write lead me to though processes for about another ten?)
And interestingly, the current situation where it’s been hard to get hold of certain foods seems to caused this particular penny to drop for some eco-influencers – those hardcore anti-plastic folk who couldn’t get to their local zero waste shop for rice, so had to buy it in plastic from Asda. Their choice has been taken away from them. So maybe this will engender some more empathy and understanding for people who work full-time and can’t fit in multiple shopping trips each week, or people who have no childcare support and can’t drag multiple kids to multiple shops, or are so frazzled by their life that they can’t work out if a veg box would be cheaper than Asda and they haven’t got time to do the admin anyway.
Just like we are NOT all in the same boat in relation to lockdown, we are not all in the same boat in how we can respond to the challenges of plastic pollution and climate change, and it’s important to remember that, now more than ever.
And here’s a little anonymous lockdown poem which has been doing the rounds on social media which I don’t hate, just for good measure (I’ve cut some bits out where I’ve seen various versions that don’t quite make sense).
WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT … I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.
For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.
Some are not getting on with family and domestic abuse is rife…we never know what goes on behind closed doors.
Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.
Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.
Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.
So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.
We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.
Web design and technology is not my strongest skill – I like writing and researching and thinking, mainly. But I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the Everyday Radical website was looking a bit rubbish. Like all writers, I would love more people to read my work (I think some of it at least is a valuable contribution to the eco issues debate, and people keep telling me it’s quite good). But having a super basic blog home page doesn’t help with that mission. So I am learning VERY SLOWLY how to use WordPress to its full potential. I’ve got a long way to go, and very limited time these days, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve redesigned the blog so it looks a bit sexier. And also, WIDGETS! (These are little WordPress features that you can add to your site to aid navigation, provide links to your social media etc.) I thought they were very complicated, but actually they’re quite straightforward.
New on the blog page, down the right hand side – over here >>>>>>>>
You can click to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. The “follow my blog” button is easier to find and there’s a list of recent posts, and an archive menu by month too. And categories! So if you read a post about washing up, for example, and you want to read some more of my ramblings about kitchen-related eco switches, you can find the category and find all the blog posts. This was pretty fun to put together, sorting through the archive. Weirdly, the dish washing posts are some of the most popular posts I’ve written. My readership must be washing up liquid geeks.
Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the new look, and the new features. Let me know what you think. More to come when I learn how to create pages – not the same thing as posts, it seems!
Briefly too, on the subject of technology. I wrote about my email hoarding tendencies back in January, with a promise to change my ways due to the carbon footprint of storing thousands of emails. Also there was a significant mental load of having 5500 emails in my inbox, it felt like a massive to do list that would never get cleared. I promised you guys I would get it down to less than 100 by the end of March.
So as of today, it’s at 302. Which feels like progress… I also deleted a massive amount of archived work emails form years ago which I will never need. But I also have to confess that I moved a LOT out of my inbox into sub folders. I’m not going to tell you how many but I’ve just counted them up and I’m a bit shocked, as there’s still an enormous bunch of stuff sitting on servers whirring away because I’ve got some odd hoarding disorder and I can’t bring myself to delete them. Most of them I am saving for a reason (quite a lot, for example, are idea leads for this blog), but the reality of how much I still have left is a bit of a wake up call. I am really interested in the psychology of hoarding, so perhaps I need to have a bit of a closer look at myself! (Digital hoarding is a thing, by the way – not much studied, but definitely a thing, which is probably on the increase).
Back to the climate impact point though. Sending and receiving emails and storing files on the cloud all has a carbon footprint, due to the servers that it’s all held on and the power they use, the energy used to run computers themselves and send and receive messages. Sure, per message it’s microscopic, but it all adds up. So I repeat my challenge to you all, folks – use your lockdown downtime (if you have any!) to clear out your mailboxes and your saved files and unsubscribe to mailing lists that you’re not really reading (they just encourage you to buy stuff you don’t need anyway). You will feel mentally cleansed, I promise you, and help to save the planet too. Every little helps, as they say (and I bet you’ve got some emails in your archive from them too!)
I keep seeing posts and memes on Facebook telling me to make the most of this lockdown period to reflect, slow down, think about what’s important in life. I must confess, in weeks 1-2 of lockdown, these posts made me feel pretty stabby. especially this poem:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
It’s by a contemporary American writer called Kitty O’Meara, but it’s been widely and wrongly attributed to another poet named Kathleen O’Meara, supposedly writing during the 1860s cholera outbreak – I don’t even know if there actually was a cholera outbreak where she lived in France (although she was originally from Ireland). This annoyed me a lot – I felt like it was trying to attribute some sort of universal pandemic commonality of suffering across the centuries, when the reality of course is that not many Catholics in the 1860s would have been particularly into meditating, most people wouldn’t have had any books in their homes, and they most likely would have been more interested in preventing starvation and death anyway.
So I read this stuff, and raged about how tactless it is to celebrate being able to meditate when there are people dying alone in under-staffed ITUs, and people are losing their jobs and struggling to feed their families, and single mothers are being driven mental by small children cooped up all day. I raged a bit more about how bloody unfair it is that I haven’t got any time to read books and do puzzles and watch Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals on YouTube (here’s the link for you lucky bastards who do have time – and if you can watch this without shedding a tear, you’ve got a heart of stone, dude).
Then my paid work finally all evaporated, and we got ourselves into a bit of a routine of sharing childcare and getting some exercise, and it all feels a tiny bit less awful now. Plus I also understand that boredom and loneliness are terrible things too, and people alone in lockdown with no toddler to distract them may also be suffering. I do acknowledge, occasionally, that it’s not all about me.
Then I wrote this post and realised that going back to normal isn’t an option afterwards; we have got to work harder on the eco stuff, or our way of life and all that we hold dear will slip from our grasp, and soon. Sorry, this is long already and I haven’t even starting talking about ecobricks. I will get on with it now.
I wrote this post quite a while ago about ecobricks and my various conflicts about them. There are definite pros and cons to the concept.
It’s incredibly hard to find a local project to donate completed bricks to and there’s pressure from within the Ecobrick movement away from “dropping off” your plastic and passing on responsibility to someone else for your waste. You’re encouraged to make something yourself or set up a local project in your community.. We still haven’t found a local project to give them too (although I may possibly have found one further afield that we can contribute to), and I have no enthusiasm for building something myself (the small one and I made a space hedgehog today out of spaghetti and play doh – picture at the bottom – you’ll see why I’m not confident of my abilities to make a planter out of bottles and mud).
(NB the idea of “shipping” bricks to developing countries to use as a building material is a common misconception, but it’s not at all recommended UK Ecobrick trainers and there’s no system to support it happening).
There are plenty of great examples though of people making the process work, making switches to reduce their consumption of plastic packaged goods, inspired into more mindful shopping by the volume of plastic waste they are having to process into an ecobrick and being motivated to reduce it. (There’s a side issue here which I find really interesting, which is that this more mindful shopping often involves visiting multiple shops and paying a “zero waste” premium, which assumes not only a certain level of income but also assumes time to shop like this, and maybe assumes there’s someone full time “at home” – probably a woman – who’s taking responsibility for this process. More on this one day.)
An empty landfill bin is an indicator of success in ecobricking, and the best brick you make is the one that you can’t fill because you’ve stopped buying plastic. So the idea that ecobricking encourages plastics use and the purchase of plastic bottles to fill is false. Aside from the slight concern I have that a lot of school projects involving ecobricks aren’t fully informed, I do think that teaching kids about ecobricks is likely to improve their awareness of the issues with single-use plastic, rather than encourage them to buy more of it to fill their bricks – mainly because the plastic harvesting is pretty boring. More likely, their parents (mothers?) will end up doing it for them when they get bored.
The most convincing criticism of ecobricking I’ve seen is that it’s guilt offset – people make bricks to make themselves feel better, and don’t make any lifestyle changes to reduce their plastic consumption. And this is where it gets personal for me. We basically haven’t made any major switches for ages and we are just bricking a load of plastic, and putting a load more into our Terracycle collection. Our Terracycle collection has been suspended at the moment due to safety concerns, understandably, so we would have to find somewhere to store it all. And it’s all loads of work washing and drying all the plastic, and we’re knackered with no childcare at the moment, and looking for things to stop doing to help us survive this time, so we talked about giving up bricking. Then I realised that the reason it’s so annoying is because we are, of course, doing it wrong by not making any further effort to reduce our plastic. The whole point of ecobricks is that they’re really annoying to make – the process is supposed to put people off making them so they look for ways to reduce their plastic. It doesn’t feel rewarding to us because it’s not reducing.
The various food chain issues we’ve all endured recently has also got me thinking. We are so far removed now from the production of our food. I don’t know where lentils grow (they do grow, right?) or where the plastic packaging they come in is made, I’ve stopped thinking about palm oil too and put a whole load of stuff in the “too difficult”pile.
So maybe now is not the time to make huge changes, because we can’t get to the zero waste shop or the market very easily and there’s limited options available in some shops round here still. But there is an opportunity to pause, maybe, and have a think about what’s going into the collection system for the bricks and Terracycle – we’re not giving up, we’re going to carry on suffering – and think about what we could do differently in the new world. I’m writing a list of what goes into each waste stream and have a vague idea of a post-lockdown action plan… (I’m not writing strategy anymore, folks, so I need an action plan of some sort in my life). Plus I’m going to find out if lentils grow on trees, or what…
Here’s the space hedgehog, just to remind us all why craft projects and me are not a great combination.
Dear reader, it’s been nearly a month since my last post. And what a month it’s been.
I stopped writing, stopped even thinking about this blog – partly because the cognitive load of making sense of this crisis, plus the mental load of keeping a household fed, entertained and vaguely sane, has been more than sufficient to occupy my thoughts. But also, I kind of thought that no one would want to be reading about recycling and plastic-free switches and all that stuff, when what we are facing is so alien, so scary. And I didn’t want to write anymore about the pandemic itself, because let’s face it, there’s enough column inches/miles being generated every minute of the day to keep us all immersed in news and views 24 hours a day.
But. I woke up a couple of days ago and had this gut-wrenching feeling. What’s going on now is practice for the consequences of the climate crisis and the impact it’s going to have on humanity. Practice, and a warning. Bear with me on this.
We are seeing increasingly alarming numbers of excess deaths every day due to Covid-19 (I’m resisting the urge to get political here and talk about my views on the Government’s response and support to the NHS. Really resisting.) But we know that the climate crisis is already causing excess deaths. By excess deaths, what I mean is the number of deaths over and above those that would have happened anyway, within the normal expected mortality rate for that population. This is also known as mortality displacement. The World Health Organisation estimate that between 2030 and 2050, there will be an additional 250,000 more deaths per year due to climate change – heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea among the likely causes.
We’ve had 104,775 deaths so far from Covid-19 (by the time you click that link, it will be more). Let’s let that sink in. Two and half times as many deaths, every year, as we’ve had so far from Covid-19, due to climate change. At the very least.
People are already dying of heat stress in bush fire regions, and of heat stroke during heat waves in cities across the world. 900 people died in England alone due to heat waves in 2019. By 2100, 75% of people around the world will be exposed to heatwaves severe enough to cause death. 2100. Many of our kids will still be alive in 2100. Flooding causes disease to spread more easily, including diarrhea which can be particularly fatal among small children. Rising temperatures will lead to the expansion of mosquito habitat, increasing cases of malaria. Other species will move closer to domestic habitats, increasing the incidence in humans of other diseases such as Q fever which is spread by bats. This is already happening in Australia and the Pacific regions. And guess what, it’s hitting the poor and the vulnerable hardest (or first, maybe).
Maybe this seems scary, and far away, both geographically and chronologically. But there’s other elements of the Covid-19 crisis that should be getting us thinking.
We’ve become accustomed to being able to get whatever food we want, whenever we want. I had a tantrum last week because I wanted a specific Marks and Spencer ready meal as our weekend treat (pancetta carbonara, since you ask). Seriously. Not only is it wrapped in hard-to-recycle plastic, but it’s made of a load of imported or out-of-season ingredients including processed meat and dairy. A problematic “treat” indeed. But I’ve become accustomed to being able to have it whenever I want. Anyone been trying to get flour recently? I haven’t totally fact checked this, but apparently flour mills in the UK are still producing as normal, or on increased output, but can’t get enough packaging from China to meet the demand for package sizes suitable for domestic customers (as opposed to much bigger bags for catering companies, bakeries and other commercial customers). Our food chain is entirely dependent on global transport infrastructure and the enormous carbon footprint that entails.
The shortages have been annoying, anxiety-inducing, catastrophic for some. It’s going to be worse, much worse, in a few decades time. Studies have shown that the impact of climate change could cause a 35% drop in global fruit and vegetable yields and an 18% reduction in US corn production, as well as significantly impacting fisheries and meat production. Coupled with a predicted global population increase of 3.4 billion people by 2050, this spells a massive change in the way we live.
All this, without even going into the economic effects, impact on human rights, increasing gulf between rich and poor and likely social breakdown.
Uplifting stuff. Sorry if I’ve added to your lockdown blues. But I feel like this message is critical. Especially if you’re feeling powerless at the moment. There’s not much we can do about the current crisis – except follow the advice to stay at home as much as possible, practice social distancing when not possible (and think about who you’re going to vote for next time, folks – also how we can exert pressure on to expose this government’s criminal negligence, and maybe what kind of a massive protest we can pull off when it’s all over. Sorry, couldn’t resist after all).
Greta, for course, puts it better than me:
There is a lot of talk about returning to normal after Covid-19. But normal was a crisis.
So, with all this spare time we have (LOLZ – I know some people have loads, and are doing lots of nice jigsaws and yoga, but some are working, looking after children, trying not to starve, etc. Anyhow – there’s opportunity for us all to refocus…)
Let’s get back to the Everyday Radical mission – what can we do to fix this shit? Cos back to normal is not an option for humanity.
I just spent the last week’s nap times categorising 700+ articles, notes and ideas for blog posts. My paid work has disappeared. Let’s DO THIS.
P.S. It’s hot. Don’t forget to turn your central heating off.
I’m not quite sure what the world is coming to, really and truly. I’m going to try not to write any more angsty stuff about Coronavirus (I published this on my other blog earlier in the week, just to get all the feels out). I actually feel weirdly calm and focussed today, I just wish “they” (or “them upstairs”, as we affectionately call the “powers that be” in this house, in remembrance of how the first team I ever managed used to refer to the faceless Execs on the top corridor) would make a decision about schools and nursery soon, so I don’t have to. What else can we do? A wise man in the queue at the greengrocers today advised me (from a respectful distance) to just “keep putting one foot in front of the other”.
Husband is on day 2 of working from home, and other than predictable issues with broadband speed (because half of London – the lucky half – is now working from home), it’s going ok. We haven’t killed each other yet and the toddler will get used to Daddy being here but not here, somehow, I’m sure. We are LUCKY. He has the kind of job where he can work from home easily and still get paid, and would get full sick pay if he got ill. We don’t have to go on the tube. We have a fair supply of food in the house (although I’m worried about the Mini Egg stocks).
But we are, like many others I suspect, running out of loo roll. Well, I say that, we have a few rolls left, but it won’t last long and there’s NONE in the shops round here. I’m not going to start using substitues like wipes or kitchen roll, because this is going to cause the sewerage system to break down, and we do NOT need that right now.
So to eke out our supply, I am experimenting with “family cloth”… this is a thing which I’ve been aware of for a while from the various eco-groups that I’m part of and I’ve always been kind of curious about it, but never actually took the plunge. It’s basically a reusable, washable alternative to toilet paper, tipped to be both a frugal and eco-conscious choice. And of COURSE, there are beautiful Instagrammable ones available on Etsy etc. There are also plenty of people out there who use flannels, old clothes cut up and hemmed, etc.
So I confess that in my naive days at the beginning of this blog, when I thought I could change the world, I bought a pack of Cheeky Wipes because I was planning on giving up baby wipes. Reader, I just unpacked the box yesterday. There’s a slightly drawn-out description of how to use family cloth here – basically, if you prefer to use them wet, it’s a bit more admin, and you have to have something sealed to put them in. I’m using the Cheeky Wipes mucky box with a bit of water and essential oils in. And I am only using them for number ones… so they’re not hideous, they’re going in the wash in a separate laundry bag which is what I also use for these, and I chuck them in a warm wash with towels or sheets or whatever.
Now, I have quite a low ick factor so this doesn’t bother me, but it reaalllly bothers some people (this is quite funny, also this – this is a topic which seems to polarise people, for sure). I’m actually more interested in whether it’s actually better for the environment.
This article argues that a bidet is the most environmentally friendly option, but it’s not a common feature in our UK plumbing set-ups. You can buy little squeezy bottle things, but honestly, what’s the carbon footprint of a plastic bottle vs. a year’s supply of recycled toilet paper? Is recycled paper actually better than paper from sustainable forests? I don’t know, in all honesty, and these are difficult things for normal, non-specialist people to make balanced decisions on. What I know for sure though is that the production of flowery, organic cotton family cloth with poppers and a pretty hamper to store them in must have the equivalent footprint of a LOT of bog roll.
So, folks, my advice if you’re running low is to use what you’ve already got – old flannels, tear up some old towels, t-shirts or muslins. Try it, start with number ones and work up to number twos as the apocalypse nears. Find a bucket with a lid or an ice cream tub or something like that to put the used ones in, you won’t die of it, I promise. And enjoy the feeling of smugness when you see people fighting in the aisles over the last pack of loo roll.
Don’t take the last pack of Mini Eggs in my local Co-op though. I’m watching you, you bastards.
(Hope that’s some light relief. Love to all in these weird days)