Pointless emails, and confessions of an electronic hoarder

I’ve been struggling a bit with email etiquette in my current freelance gig. A lot of the people I’m in contact with are people I’ve never met in real life, which is pretty normal for freelance work – but these guys are all in substantive, mainly office-based jobs so I imagine aren’t often interacting with people they don’t know personally.

So I’m being really, really polite. Lots of emails saying things like, “thanks so much for coming back to me so quickly on this.”

I remembered reading an article a few months back about the climate impact of emails, and saving it to read later (more on my digital hoarding tendencies later). I reflected on this particularly over Christmas, when I read a lot about people sending e-cards instead of physical cards, as an environmental measure to reduce waste.

So I dug the articles out of the archive today and discovered the following facts, from a study by Ovo energy supplier in November:

  • Britons send 64 million unnecessary emails per day (just Britons… thinking about the global scale here is scary).
  • If each adult in Britain sent one less email per day, this would reduce annual carbon output by 16,433 tonnes. This is the equivalent of 81,152 flights from London to Madrid, or taking 3334 diesel cars off the road.
  • 71% of Britons wouldn’t mind not receiving a “thank you” email if it helped the environment.
  • 49% of Britons admit to sending emails daily to people who are within talking distance.

There’s a basic summary of the research here, and a slightly more interesting analytical piece in the Guardian here. Professor Mike Berners-Lee, a researcher and writer on carbon footprints at the University of Lancaster, advised OVO on the research, and he acknowledges that the numbers are crude estimates, but that the study emphasises the large and growing carbon footprint of IT. Your computer uses energy, the network through which you send emails uses energy and the storage of those emails on a cloud requires energy to run the data centre.

I haven’t quite worked out the solution to the conundrum of how to handle this situation in a freelance context – probably I need to get on the phone and work on building relationships, so it doesn’t feel like emailing strangers. But it seems sensible for most office-based folks to be working to reduce these pointless emails and replace them with conversations wherever possible. It doesn’t help when there’s documents to be shared, or an audit trail is required (but sometimes that’s a symptom of mistrust, which is interesting in itself). But if it’s just a quick “thanks” to Dave who sits in the next cubicle, you could say that as you walk past and offer to make him a coffee. Maybe if you’re worried about people thinking you’re a rude tosser, write a little footer for your emails like the ones people use asking you not to print their email to save trees: “If I don’t email back to say thanks for this email, I’m not being rude, I’m saving the planet!” Smiley face, thumbs up emoticon. Well, maybe not the emoticon. (Also, EverydayRad’s top email etiqeutte top tip – don’t put kisses on emails to your boss. Ever. Even if you love them. Even if it’s Friday night and you’ve had some wine.)

I’m procrastinating here on addressing the issue of my digital hoard. I’ve been reading around a bit on email culture and reflecting on my previous jobs – the always-on culture is damaging, for sure. Interesting article here on fixing our unhealthy obsession with work email (this is an HBR article, there’s a paywall after you’ve read 6 free articles). Another one here on the cost of continuously checking work emails and its impact on efficiency and creativity. Easier said than done to address this stuff, and I never managed it properly in a demanding full-time job, but it’s food for thought.

Anyway. Confession time. I currently have 5500 emails in my hotmail inbox. And I’m pathologically unable to just delete them all, despite my husband’s urging whenever he looks over my shoulder and sees the number on my screen, even though a lot of them are irrelevant now as they’ve been there so long. What if they’re really interesting? What if I miss something? I also have hundreds of articles and posts saved on Facebook – mainly things I want to blog about. It’s like a huge digital “to read” list and it actually makes me feel a bit anxious thinking about it. I’ve found a few questionable sources (which I’m not going to share because I think the research is a bit dodgy and I haven’t had time to check it out properly – oooh it’s that digital “to do” list again!) which says that the impact of storing an email is equivalent to one plastic bag, or 10g of carbon.

So, dear readers. I am accountable to you lot and I’m setting myself a target to get my inbox down to less than 100 by the end of March. It will help me feel cognitively clearer too, I know, as well as reducing the carbon footprint. As I go, I’m unsubscribing from loads of stuff – I’m trying to keep to the Buy Nothing principle in life, so emails showing me lovely organic children’s clothes are not very helpful. Also I get massive FOMO from all the galleries, museums and concerts I don’t have time to go to, so those mailing lists can go too. I’m going to try to tackle the archive too, and I’m not even going to admit to you all how big that is. But I don’t think I really need my work emails from 2012… really.

Here’s a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of your email – untested, might be totally made up, but I urge you to think about this issue and challenge yourselves to review your relationship with email, for environmental as well as mental health reasons.

Meanwhile, I wrote a fun thing about why zero waste doesn’t exist, which is going to be posted in another online magazine soon, so watch this space, will share the link soon.

Australian bushfires

Ok, no clever title or jokes in this post today. Just a bit of fact checking and sharing of ways to help victims of the Australian bushfires.

This image has been doing the rounds on social media – I haven’t fact checked it in terms of the size it refers to, but it’s pretty telling.

Another source I’ve seen states that it’s 12 million acres on fire, another one says it’s equivalent to the whole of Belgium. Either way (and of course the absolute measurement of space will change every day, every hour, every minute maybe), it’s fucking big. And fucking scary.

24 recorded deaths so far, many more missing, 2000 homes lost. 500 million birds, reptiles and mammals lost in New South Wales alone.

Now, I confess that I’ve only just started reading articles about this crisis today; I’ve literally closed my eyes to it, because it’s just too awful to contemplate. The situation of course has been politicised – I don’t know much about Australian politics other than that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is leading the country in an increasingly right-wing direction (which sounds depressingly familiar), and has been widely criticised for down-playing the influence of climate change on the risk of wildfires. I haven’t read this article in full, but it looks to be a pretty full account of the Australian government’s response to the bush fires over the last couple of years. There’s also this bonkers idea circulating that the fires are the fault of the Greens (who are not and have never been in government), as they’ve allegedly objected to hazard reduction strategies; this is about forming fire breaks in heavily wooded areas by clearing trees near power lines, for example, and prescribed burning to reduce the fuel load, thus diminishing the intensity of subsequent wildfires. It seems that this blame game has been rolled out before by the right in Australia, and thoroughly debunked – fact check article on this here.

So, are the fires caused by climate change? As y’all know, I’m not a climate science specialist, but it seems pretty obvious to me that there will be a combination of causes and pre-conditions for something of this scale to take hold. Here’s an article from a journalist for The Spectator (centre-right British politics and culture magazine, owned by the same people who own The Daily Telegraph), saying that the bushfires aren’t down to climate change.

Here’s another article by an award-winning Australian climate scientist, Dr Joelle Gergis, which argues that the links between human-caused climate change and the intensification of extreme weather conditions, not just in Australia, but all over the world, are clear. That “what’s unfolding right now is really just a taste of the new normal” and that “the planetary situation is extremely dire”. Gergis speculates that the Earth system may now have breached a tipping point, with so much heat trapped in the system that a domino effect has been triggered : “rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it”.

I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to believe someone with a pHD in Climatology, or a freelance journalist who writes for The Daily Mail and has published books entitled “How to Label a Goat: the silly Rules and Regulations that are strangling Britain” and “The Great Before“, a novel which satirises the pessimism of the green movement.

So, as always, we look for something practical to do. Here is a brilliant article which lists the various appeals and charitable funds which have been set up to support volunteer firefighters, the families of those who have died, those people displaced by the fires, and the wildlife affected. Honestly I think donating is the most useful thing that can be done; I saw a point made on the Sustainable-ish Facebook page, which was raising concern at the potential carbon footprint generated by well-meaning Europeans shipping or flying knitted joey pouches to Australia to help homeless or orphaned baby kangaroos. It’s tempting to want to physically DO something with your hands, but I think wonga is better in these circumstances.

Plus of course all the other stuff to reduce your carbon footprint and campaign to corporations and governments to take this stuff seriously.

Greta says the world is on fire, and it looks like she’s right.

Be more Greta

So there’s quite a lot of you still out there reading and interacting, which is motivating me to keep writing! I dropped a link to this article in my last post – “Be more Greta: seven ways to help reduce your environmental impact”. So I thought I should actually read it properly and use it as a springboard to maybe relaunch #SaturdaySwitch or at least trigger some thoughts about next steps on the eco journey. I’ve been feeling pretty jaded of late, and I know that reading articles like this, while taking a forensic view of my family’s day-to-day life, does help bring things into focus.

So. How are we doing? (NB this list isn’t Greta’s, it’s from WWF. The “Greta bandwagon” has of course been the subject of a gazillion column inches and maybe I will write about that one day too, and try to fathom why a bunch of white, middle-aged men who made all their money from trashing the planet are so afraid of a teenage girl who gives NO shits whatsover about who she upsets…)

  • Switch to clean energy. Check. We switched to Green Network Energy last year. I don’t fully understand how the National Grid works with power generated from different sources, but this explains reasonably well why no power company can guarantee that every kilowatt of power that enters your home is from a renewable source. We don’t have a smart meter yet but I would like to get one – partly to try to shave more money off the bills. We do have gas heating and hobs, and I know gas is worse for the environment but my understanding of the physics of all this is very limited. So perhaps this is something to research further. I have a new slow cooker I’m keen to try out, and running this on electricity may well be cheaper and better for the environment than prolonged hob cooking.
  • Ethical banking – I’ve just kept my eyes tight shut on this one for a long time. I bank with Barclays mainly, although our joint account is with First Direct. I have no clue what either of their investment policies are, although I expect Barclays to be pretty dire. I also have no idea whether my pension pots are invested ethically. Work to do here.
  • Sustainable food – there’s nothing new to me here really. Less meat and dairy, more seasonal and local food. It often falls into the “too difficult” category to really nail this, especially when trying to budget, but this is true:

[food production is ]“a major driver of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss. It’s responsible for more than 60% of biodiversity loss worldwide and almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Must try harder on this one.

  • Be a conscious shopper. I’m mainly interpreting this as trying not to be a shopper as much as possible. I’m following a few No Spend/Buy Nothing 2020 challenges on social media at the moment. People have varying motives for wanting to take this on – often financial as well as focusing on sustainability. It’s been a challenge over Christmas, to be sure – I’m still reflecting on this… It’s hard to resist the urge to buy new stuff that you know your very cute two-year-old will absolutely love… But equally I feel sick whenever I think about the kind of planet he’s going to grow up on if we don’t get to grips with this, and fast.
  • Reduce your waste – there’s lots here I’m already doing, especially in terms of reducing food waste, batch cooking, planning meals etc. The article is a bit disjointed here though, as it veers from talking about low level individual decisions, to stressing the importance of product design fitting within circular economies, to enable things to be reused, recycled or repurposed. I feel like we get lost in the individualistic view of saving the world, making heroes out of ourselves and agonising about the best carrier bags to use. But actually, the sweeping changes have to come from governments and big corporations. See the final point…
  • Make space for nature – I am crap at this. We have a garden but it’s bare except for lawn. No time, no knowledge or skills. Come spring/summer I might be able to do something about this, but most likely not, as we will be hopefully mid house build by then. Eeek. Must not think too much about this, or I will lose my mind. Maybe I will grow some herbs indoors. We are also robust supporters of our local parks and woodland. Which also helps prevent the impending madness.
  • Speak up – as above, one person giving up single use carrier bags isn’t enough. I’ve been sceptical about the value of writing to MPs, signing petitions etc., but it certainly can’t do any harm… I’m going to try to be a bit more strategic about this and chat to some friends who are more active in this area than me about what actually has the most traction to make a difference.

So. Overall I think this article is a bit weird and disjointed, and taking a bit of a classic tick-box new year’s resolution approach. No mention of reducing car use, stopping flying, not much about single use plastic.

I wonder what Greta would actually say? No one is too small to make a difference, sure, but some people are big enough to make a huge difference, and putting pressure on them to change is where her energy is being directed, rather than bickering on Facebook zero waste groups about fabric wrapping paper.

Next week – some vegan(ish) meal planning, another visit to the refill shop and maybe I will have done some research about banking. Maybe a #SaturdaySwitch tomorrow too.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

Is anyone still out there?

It’s been aaaaages since I last posted, so I will honestly be delighted if anyone reads this!

Happy 2020 anyway to whoever is reading, and I hope your festive season has been enjoyable.

SO many thoughts to share with you all! I want to have a rant about fabric gift wrap. And competitive Instagram zero waste Christmas nonsense. And snobbery about plastic toys (but I’ve already written tons on that, so I will leave that one for now at least).

Time is as ever at a premium though, as I still have a few other irons in the proverbial freelance fire. But I have noticed that since I stopped writing blog posts here regularly, I have been succumbing more and more to eco-anxiety and feeling increasingly depressed about the world in general. A certain major political event on December 12th may have contributed to that feeling, along with the overall awfulness of the global situation (predominantly, the horrendous and heart-breaking Australian forest fires).

On a personal level, it’s hard to feel any kind of empowerment against this scale of bad news (and if you don’t think a Tory majority is bad news, then maybe we will part company some day soon, because one of these days I’m going to write about austerity). I wrote some stuff on my personal Facebook page about the election and it got me into trouble with friends and family, so there’s a level of filtering required sometimes that becomes another ongoing pressure.

But what has become clear to me is that writing this blog, and doing the research that goes with it, followed by taking a definitive action, however small, makes me feel better and like I’m at least doing something to mitigate against the climate crisis that I firmly believe humanity is facing.

The internet is full of lists of resolutions for us all to follow to live more sustainably – in all honesty I haven’t read any of them yet, but I’ve saved a few to peruse throughout January. This one, for example, looks good. I’m pretty good at making huge lists of New Year’s resolutions, and less good at keeping them. I prefer to see life as a continuing journey of self-improvement… I’m not really a very relaxed or contented person in this sense, it seems.

But at least for you lucky, lucky people, that is likely to mean more blog posts to read. Hit me up with your requests of things for me to research, if you like. Not that I don’t have a pending list of 3947 things to write about….. Current obsessions here are reducing food waste, getting to grips with whether the fuss about plastic is just noise or worth really worrying about, and how to plan a house renovation without generating loads of waste and pollution (and avoiding a nervous breakdown in the process).

Back soon. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe every day in 2020! Who knows what can be achieved if I get up at 5am every day! #5amWritersClub (this is a thing, look it up on Twitter!)

Where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing

Gosh, it’s nearly two weeks since I last posted. Sorry, people. I am a very good example of how NOT to maximise the success of a viral post… (this is the ragey post I wrote at the beginning of October which got retweeted a lot and nearly 1000 views – seems it resonated with a lot of people who are fed up of mothers and women in general being judged for every single thing they do).

Anyway… since we last met, dear reader, my very limited spare writing time has been taken up by some freelance work for the NHS, writing and rewriting a few business cases. I am enjoying it a lot – it’s not exactly got me hankering for the old days of 50+ hour weeks in a front-line operational job, but it’s good to get the brain cells whirring again (and earn some actual money, of course, which is always nice). So if you follow me on social media (Twitter or Facebook – no Instagram, ever), you’d have known there was a blog hiatus on the horizon, sorry if you missed it. I’ve also got another super secret writing thing going on, but it’s super secret and staying that way. Literally not one single human that I know in real life knows about it, so there.

I’m finding it a bit frustrating at the moment, to be honest, having so little time for writing. But it seems I can’t simultaneously do paid work, unpaid work, have a clean house and sleep, let alone keep a toddler alive and fed (and feed a husband too, of course). So something has to give at the moment, and it’s the clean house and the unpaid stuff, of course.

I have been plugging away at the eco switches in the background. I’ve been to SWOP today for Faith in Nature shampoo and conditioner. I confess I’ve given up on shampoo bars for now – fed up of looking like a scarecrow. I could have persevered but I didn’t want to spend tons of money on different bars to see what worked for me. I feel that refills is the next best thing – although it has occurred to me today to tweet SWOP to ask them what happens to the 5L bottles they get from their supplier and whether they’re sent back and refilled. I maintain that there’s no such thing as truly zero waste, I don’t think…

And dishwashing! The obsession continues. I took the plunge and switched to Splosh dishwasher tablets, and I’m really happy with them. They come in this snazzy little tub:

The tablets are covered in a water-soluble film, which looks a bit like plastic but definitely isn’t, and they are cruelty free. They came in a box padded with a bunch of things that looked alarmingly like styrofoam, but this apparently is a starch-based packing peanut, which is biodegradable.

I also bought hand wash, washing up liquid, kitchen and bathroom cleaner refills, to use in bottles I’ve kept, and refillable Splosh laundry liquid. I’m happy with the laundry liquid but it seems to be disappearing pretty fast, so I’m considering halving the amount I’m using per wash to see if it’s still effective, as I would with the dosage recommendations for powder or tablets.

My Splosh account tells me I’ve already saved 19 bottles. I was a bit concerned about the refill pouches, but the blurb on the website is convincing – the combined effort of using very concentrated products and pouches reduces plastic use by 90%, and the pouches can be returned for reprocessing with only a 2.5% waste rate from this process (they call this “zero waste”, but of course it’s not… but it’s miles better than new bottles every time, made out of virgin plastic then plunged into the over-burdened recycling system to end up goodness knows where). Splosh say that their customers have saved 257,511 plastic bottles from going into the waste system this year, and they’re aiming for one million next year.

I’m pretty happy with the Splosh switch. Nothing’s perfect, of course, except living in a cave and eschewing all modernity (tempting sometimes!) But it felt like the right choice, after quite a bit of research.

Next switch – not sure. Check out Tortoise Happy‘s blog if you want some inspiration while waiting for my next post. She’s doing well in her challenge to make 12 eco-switches before the end of the year.

There’s loads I want to write about – XR, climate change and feminism, eco-anxiety, Christmas… Anyone want to sponsor this blog so I can spend more time on it? (*wishes for fairy godmother*

Until next time – keep on truckin’.

(Here’s the Splosh refills all neat in the cupboard like a row of books).

Motherhood, consumption and guilt part 3 – it’s time to party like it’s NOT 1999

So you have a baby, and you have this blur of sleepless nights and stressing about naps and milk (and then you write a post about formula and climate change which goes a little bit viral on Twitter – eeep! And thanks for all the shares, folks), then you BLINK and it’s their second birthday.

To celebrate keeping the small person alive for two years, we decided to have a party. His first birthday was somewhat overshadowed by a double bout of norovirus, so I did feel like the occasion deserved particular attention.

Children’s parties are a bit of a minefield if you’re trying to reduce plastic and reduce waste (there’s no such thing as zero waste, people – just less). And I’m afraid I didn’t actually try that hard. I wanted “proper” 80s style party food – sandwiches, sausage rolls, those little eggy bite things, a cheese and pineapple hedgehog. I am SO gutted that I forgot to take a photo of the hedgehog – I feel like I missed the documentation of a pretty major parenting milestone here. It looked a bit like this though, except I forgot to give it any eyeballs (yet another parenting fail!)

I’m afraid this meant buying quite a lot of food wrapped in plastic packaging. I did try with the plates and cups – but I didn’t research it enough, I misguidedly thought that paper plates and cups would be recyclable, but of course they’re coated in plastic so they had to go in the black bin for incineration. In hindsight, with a bit more organisation, I would have been better off hiring a reusable party kit from something like the Party Kit Network UK. I’m not completely convinced by the various biodegradable palm leaf and wooden options available – they look very pretty and Instragrammable but I feel like they must be quite energy-hungry to produce, and of course – TREES, we have to remember the trees in all these anti-plastic efforts, despite what the influencers try to sell us.

Anyway, here’s a big bag of rubbish that we sorted through for recycling, Terracycle and ecobricking, as penance for our party sins.

We had amazing entertainment from the lovely Cathy at Rucksack Music and a bunch of ride on toys (mostly second hand, from car boot sales – we’ve had the plastic toys chat already, haven’t we?) We didn’t do party bags – just cake (Colin the Caterpillar is awesome). I figured I have a couple of years’ grace before children’s parties become competitive and party bags become an essential part of the experience. I am seeing increasingly in the zero waste social media world (I know, I need to get out more), lots of plastic free/zero waste/Pinterest-worthy eco party bags. I’m afraid I think some of this is pretty cringe-worthy performance parenting, eco-style, but I suppose I should get to grips with it before the next party – maybe when he’s about 12…

The party was SO fun and lovely. It’s just kind of exhausting thinking about low-waste parenting all the time and feeling guilty about not doing enough. I’m a bit jealous of people who parented in the 80s and 90s, when this stuff wasn’t at the forefront of our minds, although perhaps consumerism hadn’t taken hold quite so much then either and expectations were lower. And I am still agonising over this amazing advent calendar, which I also find slightly horrific, but I want to buy it SO much for the small one, as he would absolutely love it. I think I actually shared a different one in my earlier post, but the fact that there is more than one miniature Thomas the Tank Engine advent calendar in the world makes it even worse, doesn’t it? I want to buy him plastic toys that he will love, just like I want to buy him gorgeous, soft and squadgy organic cotton vests and joggers with dinosaurs on, rather than slightly tatty but perfectly adequate stuff from eBay. And I want to buy him strawberries from wherever the hell in the world they come from in February, wrapped in plastic – because he loves them. And he’s my best boy and I want him to have all the things he likes, and the very best we can afford. And all the stuff that the luckier members of the generation before this (mine) had, without anyone really thinking about the environmental impact.

But of course that’s what got us into this mess in the first place. And equally, I want him to be able to grow up and be able to go swimming in oceans that aren’t full of plastic, and see coral reefs that aren’t dead, and live in a world that isn’t a hellish post-climate-apocalypse warzone. (I’m betraying a sense of entitlement for long-haul travel here, which is another post entirely…)

So it’s back to it, kids. One change at a time, day by day, trying to do the right thing. This stuff isn’t easy. But it’s critical. If I’m not up for gluing myself to a government building to protest against our global emergency, the least I can do is contemplate giving up cocktail sausages.

Thomas feels my pain.

Motherhood, consumption and guilt part 2 (do not read this if you may be offended by my rage…)

Right, here goes (this is a long one).

I promised when I started writing this blog that it wasn’t going to be another whiny parenting blog about how hard everything is, and I think I’ve done pretty well to keep it proactive and positive when talking about parenting in conjunction with eco stuff.

Then I read this – and if you don’t want to see me getting cross and emotional, I suggest you shuffle off now and tune in again to the next post. Most of you who know me personally will be able to imagine why this would upset/annoy/infuriate me. I’m not even sure how coherently I’m going to be able to write about this, but I’m going to try – and if it turns out shit, I’ll leave it in the “drafts” folder and try something else tomorrow. (Turns out I left it in the drafts folder for nearly a week, kids.)

Some helpful scientists at Imperial College have highlighted the UK’s very low breast-feeding rates (34% of babies still receiving some breast milk at six months, following 81% initiation rate – stats here). They’ve calculated that if all mothers exclusively breast-fed for six months, as per the WHO guidelines, then the benefit to the environment would be the equivalent of taking 77,000 cars off the roads. “The Imperial team calculated that [this] would save between 95 and 153 KG of carbon dioxide per baby. […] The production of unnecessary infant and toddler formulas exacerbates environmental damage and should be a matter of increasing global concern.” The issues raised are the water footprint of milk powder, the methane output of milk-producing livestock, the paper and metal production and waste from formula packaging and transportation and marketing of “breastmilk substitutes”. Not to mention all the boiling of kettles to heat up formula milk.

I’ve read the full BMJ article and it’s bizarrely brief and poorly referenced, in my humble opinion. It’s simplistic and moralising, sure – but it also makes hugely flawed assumptions about the alleged low or zero carbon impact of breast feeding. What about the extra 500 calories per day you purportedly need to consume to breastfeed? That’s the very least additional input you would need, if it all goes simply. What about the nursing clothes, the pumps, the nursing covers, the nipple shields, the nipple cream? What about the trips to lactation consultants and midwives and health visitors when it’s not working out? What about the trips to A&E when it’s really not working out? What about the carbon footprint of looking after babies in intensive care units when it’s really, really not working out? (This is a thing, and there’s good evidence that it is increasing due to the militant promotion of breast feeding at all costs in hospitals allied to the Unicef Baby-Friendly Initiative).

The article suggests donor banks as a solution for when supplementation is needed – so at least it acknowledges that supplementation is sometimes needed – but what about the carbon footprint of setting up that network, pumping the milk, transporting it to where it’s needed in a timely manner and then refrigerating and reheating it?

MUCH has been written about the poor ethics of formula companies and I’m not denying that a lot of it is true – however, it can’t be ignored that one of the authors of this study is a director of the Hearts Milk Bank Foundation, so maybe just maybe might have something to gain by promoting donor milk? Maybe dodgy ethics are not just the province of Nestle?

Dr Amy Tuteur, an obstetrician, campaigner and author of “Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting”, refutes all this stuff much more eloquently than me here

“By refusing to consider the environmental impact of breastfeeding itself and the increased risk of hospitalization, Shenker et al. haven’t made the environmental case for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, they have shifted responsibility for addressing climate change from corporations (which could fix it) and instead blame mothers. Ultimately, [they] exert even more pressure on women. […] Recent research has noted how pressure to breastfeed has harmed women’s mental health.”

My story – very briefly, because after two years I’m bored to death of thinking and talking about it – is that I really wanted to breastfeed, in part due to environmental reasons, but I had no idea that it could be just not possible, because no one tells you that at antenatal classes. Every healthcare professional you meet tells you that it’s incredibly rare not to be able to breastfeed at all, and gives you a bunch of dramatic statistics (less than 1%? 2%? 5%?), all based on flawed and dated studies, of the percentage of women with insufficient milk supply to keep a baby alive. No sensible stats on babies who can’t latch, due to tongue tie or other reasons. No estimate of how many of them would have died from “failure to thrive” before formula came along. Anyway, in short – I had tons of milk but my son couldn’t latch due to the “worst tongue tie we’ve seen in 20 years”, according to the very expensive lactation consultants who snipped his tongue tie, twice, to no avail. I pumped for six weeks but in all honesty it made me housebound and virtually suicidal and I had to stop for the good of everyone in our household, including our son – it’s better to cuddle your baby and feed them formula, than have to leave them to cry while you pump “liquid gold”, in my considered opinion.

Anyway. I’m not anti-breastfeeding, of course, and if we had another baby, I would try again – but I wouldn’t allow myself to be bullied into misery if it didn’t work out. There are so many issues here around breast feeding support, education, cultural issues, bodily autonomy (some women just don’t fucking want to, and that’s ok too in this day and age, surely?) And I don’t doubt that there is some validity in the environmental argument – formula is a manufactured product which by definition is going to have an adverse footprint.

The reasons why women don’t breastfeed are complex, and I don’t disagree that it would be good for many reasons if breastfeeding rates in the UK were higher. But stuff like the BMJ article does not help.

There is major stigma around formula feeding as it is – and if you deny this, ask any mum you know who bottle fed in public, this is the real lived experience. I got stares, tuts and criticism, implications that I hadn’t tried hard enough, didn’t love my baby as much as breast feeding mums did, made the choice to formula feed for my own convenience rather than his well-being. There’s a perception that formula feeding mums are lazy (“aren’t you feeding him yourself?”), a bit thick and manipulated by evil formula companies’ advertising. This is not helped by the inconclusive but widely-touted studies on the impact of breastfeeding on the baby’s IQ. Many of the positive outcomes of breastfeeding have been demonstrated in babies where the mothers intended to breastfeed but weren’t able to, showing that a lot of the advantages are impossible to separate out from the demographic factors of privilege and socio-economic status. Anyway, have a look at Fed is Best if you’re interested in this stuff, or follow Dr Amy Tuteur on Twitter.

My point, finally, is that guilt-tripping mothers about using formula on environmental grounds (based on many flawed assumptions) helps neither the environment nor women’s mental health. A large proportion of mothers who’ve made that choice already probably feel shit about it, and they can’t just unmake it and relactate (although hardcore La Leche types would tell you that they could, I expect). Maybe the environmental argument might influence some pregnant women who are on the fence, but I doubt it very much.

What the BMJ position does is to further heap on the guilt and shame to mothers for all that’s wrong in our society, and the planet. It’s our fault that there’s a childhood obesity endemic, especially working mothers. If we go back to work early we’re neglecting our children and outsourcing their care to strangers, to their emotional detriment. If we stay at home, we’re setting a poor example and being bad feminists. We buy them too many plastic toys. We shouldn’t be having children anyway as the Earth is over-populated.

Actually, this is all just distraction. This is the problem – 20 global firms causing one third of all carbon emissions. And I hate to say it, but the majority of the key decision-makers in these organisations will be men. I don’t want to turn this into a gender blame game, but there are a few critical issues here.

  • We can’t fix this by giving up plastic or becoming vegan at an individual level, any more than we can fix this by not using formula for our babies. We can only fix this by manifest change in the way our societies and economies function – and that’s what XR are trying to achieve this week. Love them or hate them, at least they’re doing something.
  • Globally, men have more power than women to make these big changes. Is it right? No. Is it true? Yes. So we need to stop blaming women for everything we don’t like in society.
  • Women actually have huge power in the domestic sphere in terms of purchasing decisions – this is where we can make a big collective impact, in refusing single use plastic, reusing as much as possible, choosing green transport options for our families and teaching our kids about conservation and environmental issues.

Sorry, this is a long one today, but it’s from my heart and I think it’s important. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you disagree with me.

“In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.”
― William Penn

Running out of thyme – and the end of #BuyNothing September

I ran out of thyme this week. Sorry folks, it’s just too good a pun not to write about.

I’ve got quite a respectable stash of these herb and spice jars. I think it’s loosely based on a list from one of Jack Monroe‘s books of essential ingredients to have in your store cupboard. As someone who’s always striving to cook from scratch more creatively, it’s handy to rarely have to buy extra herbs and spices to add to recipes I’m trying out. They’re all supermarket bought though – the glass jars are recyclable but the lids almost definitely not. The label says “check locally”, but even if they were the right kind of plastic to be recycled, I expect they would get lost in the sorting machines at recycling plants and end up in landfill (I promise I’m going to write some more in the Recycling 101 series soon about all these random recycling thoughts).

My plan has always been to replace things with zero/low waste options as and when they ran out. So off I trooped to SWOP with my empty thyme jar to see what could be done. Sure enough, there’s a herbs and spices section, so I refilled my little jar using one of their funnels from a big jar of dried organic Spanish thyme… and held my breath at the till, expecting to pay a major eco-premium (plus an organic premium).

A 17g jar of own brand dried thyme in Asda costs 69p. A Schwarz brand-named packet (now in cardboard, not glass jars anymore it seems) is £1.37 for 11g. My refilled jar (not completely full but probably close to 17g) was 35p. So the lesson, boys and girls, is that eco and low waste is NOT ALWAYS more expensive… it’s pretty hard to predict which products are going to be cheaper and which are going to shock you with their prices, but I guess it’s all a learning game. And learning takes thyme. Ahaaaa. (I’m here all week).

Meanwhile, it’s now October! (Hurray for autumn!) Which means that Oxfam’s #SecondHandSeptember campaign is over. I wrote about this here – essentially it was a campaign to encourage people not to buy new clothes for a month, to raise awareness of the environmental impact of fast fashion. It was quite interesting watching the social media chat around this. For huge amounts of people, not buying anything new for a month is not a challenge at all. Loads of people people very rarely or never buy new clothes, for financial reasons as well as environmental. But some people are really interested in fashion and really want to wear the latest trends. I find this hard to understand to be honest, but no doubt there are some people who would find my book collection weird and extreme, and see it as a waste of trees (this is another post I will write one day – but I am procrastinating on it in a BIG way…) Anyway, I think Oxfam got the promo slightly wrong and were mainly preaching to the converted, but I’m not sure what the alternative is, and anything which raises awareness of the harmful impact of fast fashion on the environment is of course a good thing.

We were aiming for Buy Nothing September, or ever again… so how is my pledge to buy nothing new for myself or the small one until the end of the year going?

Well, pretty good actually. I’ve bought groceries, toiletries, food and medicine for the cat. I’ve bought some more clothes on eBay for the small one – he’s moving into the next size bracket so everything is getting too small all at the same time. I also bought myself a second hand copy of the novel of Les Miserables to read in my copious spare time, after going to see the staged concert of the musical last weekend at the Gielgud theatre. And just as an aside – OMactualG – beg, borrow or steal a ticket to get the chance to see this if you can, it was amazing. And it got me thinking about revolution and rebellion and being more radical, hence my desire to sit quietly at home and read the book…

Anyway. It’s been Mr Everyday Radical’s birthday this month, and I did buy him a new book – The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, which is about the impact climate change is going to have on our planet unless we take radical action. Uplifting stuff. I must confess I have a bad habit of buying him books as presents that I want to read myself. But that book is the sum total of new consumer goods that have entered our house in the month of September. (My mum also bought new shoes and some socks for the small one – does that count? Generous Grandma privilege remains sacred, I think).

Then on 1st October my son’s buggy broke on the bus, I had a huge meltdown and had to buy him a new travel buggy at Mothercare to use while we get it fixed. I also bought him a fluffy onesie for the winter in the sale. Because I buy new stuff when stressed. I also bought a Wispa to share with my mum, to help us recover from the bus trauma. The small one’s 2nd birthday was also 1st October, and he’s had some lovely presents (some new, and plastic – which is fine by me because they’re not single use, they will be passed on and I refuse to ban people from buying him stuff because that would make me mean and a rude twat, frankly). But I think on balance we are doing pretty well.

I’m working up to Christmas… I want to buy this for him SO much, because he would LOVE it, but it feels like it would be practically against my religion. Hmmm. I was going to do another installment of Motherhood, Consumption and Guilt one day wasn’t I? Watch this space.

(Belated) #SaturdaySwitch part 7 – yet another post about dish washing

So if you’ve been reading my blog from the start, you might have seen my earlier posts about dish washing: this one, the inaugural #SaturdaySwitch, where we switched from plastic washing up sponges to cotton scourers, and this one about limiting washing up to actualise the eco-benefits of using an efficient dishwasher (I thought this post was staggeringly dull, but it had some of the highest hits of all my blog posts – so you guys must be quite excited about dish washing, or really liked the photo of my favourite mug).

We’re up to PART 7 of Saturday Switch now, although I forgot to number two of them, and a couple have happened on a Sunday. The idea is that I’m NOT getting rid of all the plastic/non-eco stuff in my house at one fell swoop, spending loads of money but getting to be all smug and Instagrammish about my sustainable life, but I’m gradually making changes as and when I run out of things or get some random inspiration, or get sufficiently irritated by pointless plastic that I feel I have to do something.

Dishwasher tablets have been annoying me for a while. We used to buy the Aldi ones because they are super cheap, but they of course come wrapped in plastic, so I bought some Ecover ones recently which I sort of assumed would NOT come in plastic (clue in the ECO name maybe?), but alas, they are.

So I thought I would attempt some proper research before chucking more money away. As always, there are multiple issues to consider. Are you most bothered about chemical content? (not all chemicals are toxic, remember… water is a chemical compound…) Or animal testing? Or avoiding plastic packaging?

This is a useful article from 2017. In terms of chemicals, those pesky bureaucrats in the EU banned phosphates, which are harmful to aquatic life, from dishwasher detergents in 2017, so nothing that is sold to domestic customers contains them (although it seems that commercial detergents still can contain them – come on bureaucrats, get on it please!). Ecover comes out best of the well-known brands, but despite being a cruelty-free brand itself, a lot of ethically-concerned consumers are now boycotting it since its takeover by Johnson and Johnson, who are still a company which tests on animals.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about smol in eco Facebook groups recently, so I’ve been researching their offering in more detail. The premise is that they deliver packages of very small and concentrated laundry and dishwasher tablets through the post, which are “eco-friendly” and cruelty-free (Leaping Bunny approved). The packaging is 90% recycled plastic and apparently 100% continuously recyclable. I’m not convinced about this, as I keep reading that plastic degrades with each round of recycling and will always end up as something not recyclable, so is always therefore fundamentally destined for landfill, incineration or the ocean. However, I’m not a chemical engineer with a specialist knowledge of plastic, so I can’t be sure! Equally I’m not a chemical engineer who can decipher this. But I feel reasonably confident that it would be an improvement on Ecover and Aldi in terms of plastics and ethics, at the very least.

How about pricing? My rough maths makes Aldi 7p per dishwasher load, Smol 15p per load and Ecover is 24p per load. The other major contender is Ecoleaf, which I’ve been put off buying in shops as it’s so expensive, but it comes in at 15p per load if bought in bulk online.

Splosh is also an interesting offering – they do various other household stuff too (thoughts on this to come another time!), but the dishwasher tablet offering works out at 22p per wash with no plastic casing at all.

So this is actually quite a difficult decision to make.

Ecoleaf – have to buy in bulk in massive cardboard box (heavy for transportation purposes, hard to store, carbon footprint of the cardboard production and recycling is also a consideration), purports to be plant based but the ingredient list actually states that it’s less than 5% plant-based ingredients, and contains “sustainably sourced palm oil” – I sort of don’t believe this exists really, but more research needed as always.

Aldi and Ecover – too much plastic, plus dodgy Ecover ethics (also pending further research)

Smol – probably too much plastic? They say it’s recyclable kerbside but I don’t trust local authorities not to lie about where they’re sending recycling, so I’m trying to reduce our recycling as much as possible without increasing black bin waste. Smol also say you can send the plastic packaging back for reuse, but – FAFF.

Smol and Splosh both appear to be palm oil free, which is something I am trying to introduce into my decision-making too.

I can’t make much sense of the ingredients lists though – do I have any followers who actually understand what chemical names mean? What does “plant-based” really mean? Please do get in touch if you’re out there!

In the mean time, I’m going to order some Splosh tablets because they’re the most convincingly plastic-free in my eyes. And I will let you know how I get on!

None of these decisions are easy, are they? There is so much green-washing about, it feels easier to do nothing, but I do still believe that little by little we can make a difference.

Adventures in baking with a grotty toddler

So the weather here has been grim this week, and the toddler has been struck down with toddler-grot lurgy. He’s been that super fun mix of too poorly to go out to playgroups and cough all over other children (whose mothers would tut at me disapprovingly, no doubt), but well enough to be bored and grumpy at home. So we did BAKING. Because I am a wholesome mummy, and all that.

I’ve been agonising recently about our consumption of snack bars, chocolate bars etc. My husband has crisps and a chocolate bar at work most days, and the small one likes the baby crisps, rice cakes and oaty snack bars from Aldi – he calls them cakies and it’s pretty cute really (other brands of toddler snack are available). All the wrappers can go in our local Terracycle collection. But I had a bit of a revelation this week in response to the news that Burger King are going to stop giving away free plastic toys with their kids meals. They are inviting people to bring back unwanted toys to their restaurants to be melted down to make restaurant items such as new trays and play areas. They’re working with a company called Pentatotnic, who develop closed loop recycling solutions and state that no harmful gases will be released into the environment when these plastics are melted. They claim that using recycled polypropylene to make a tray rather than virgin plastic would result in an 88% reduction in total energy consumption and a 70% reduction in carbon emissions.

I think it’s a brilliant move from Burger King, and I hope other chains follow suit, including producers of magazines and comics for kids which all seem to contain plastic tat. And toddler advent calendars – oh my goodness, the volume of plastic is scary (do NOT get me started on Hallowe’en, either).

But Terraycle are in the playground making game too, and I’m sure other similar schemes exist – and it just got me wondering. How many more playgrounds do we need, and what is the actual end point for this material? It’s being re-purposed, great, but it still exists and will exist for an unimaginably long time. We are pouring more and more plastic into these recycling schemes to assuage our consumer guilt, but what we really need to do is turn off the tap.

So, enter the toddler bake-off. I thought it would be a good thing to do to start home baking more of our treats and snacks, to reduce the waste impact. Plus fun and wholesome and all that. So we made chocolate chip cookies yesterday and we had a lot of fun – the small one spent quite a lot of time throwing flour on the floor and smearing his grubby little paw prints all over Daddy’s coffee machine, but he also did some stirring and mixing (one of his favourite things), a bit of pouring and quite a lot of squidging of dough. And we produced 17 of these bad boys.

And they were YUM.

But of course, the majority of the ingredients came in plastic… It kind of feels like one step forward and two steps back!

Butter – mixed material wrapping, not recyclable. Is there butter out there wrapped in recyclable wrapping? Add to the list of things to research.

Self-raising flour and caster sugar – in paper packaging. Hurrah.

Muscovado sugar – in plastic and cardboard packaging.

Milk – plastic bottle, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that milk bottles are high grade plastic and sought after for recycling, so hopefully it will end up actually recycled rather than rotting on a riverbank in Malaysia, but still. I can’t face the admin of glass bottled milk at the moment as we don’t use much, but it’s on the endless list of things to investigate.

Chocolate (not in the picture… hmmm…. wonder why not?) – packaging went into Terracycle bag *facepalm*

Pecan nuts – in plastic, not recyclable.

Baking paper – never researched this but I expect it’s got some sort of plastic in it. So what to do…?

I need to research a few options and check out what baking ingredients I can get at SWOP – my Buy Nothing Group co founder is kindly going to give me some jars to fill. SWOP’s range is great but will I expect be more expensive. So I will keep you posted on this little field trip, when we do it.

Step by step, people. Step by step. Flapjacks next week I think. Or muffins. Or flapjacks. Hmmm. And I will go to the gym. I absolutely will. (What’s the carbon footprint of a gym, I wonder? Endless questions).