Reflections on a not-so-zero-waste Valentine’s Day

I always have these great ideas to write posts which are relevant to something current, so I can ride the hashtag wave and go viral, then I don’t manage to write them in time for the actual day and it feels a bit naff. But anyway, I’m going to post this a few days late and hope that someone out there still finds it interesting.

Disclaimer: I was not trying to have a zero waste Valentine’s Day. I have had one full night’s sleep in the last 16 days so I’m not really trying very hard at anything much at the moment. This is a just some reflections on what we did, what some other people seem to do and what we could do better next year.

Clearly the most low carbon impact to do would be nothing. Have a bowl of locally sourced turnip soup, stay in with the heating turned off and play Scrabble by candle-light, then definitely do NOT conceive a child (carbon footprint of babies… God, I’m procrastinating SO much on writing about this). For the perfect Instagrammable “zero waste” gifts, you could choose organic underwear or a hand-engraved vintage fork for £12. Less easily Instagrammable options include chocolates (vegan and plastic-free, obvs) or booze (in glass of course). Other things I’ve seen people write about are wrapping presents in old maps or fabric, donating to a charity in place of buying a gift (I do actually quite like this one), the usual eco-friendly suggestions like soap bars, natural loofahs, natural beard shampoo (!), or home made edibles wrapped in tissue paper. “Experience” gifts like going to a concert or a stately home don’t have a “stuff” impact, but they will have some carbon footprint in terms of travel.

Of course, all of these are better than plastic-wrapped crap or polyester teddies from Clinton’s that you don’t want or need. It’s hard to strike the balance between having a bit of romance and treating your partner, and buying stuff that you don’t need – and that means anything, even organic beard oil if they don’t want it or organic underwear if they don’t need it (the carbon and water footprint of organic cotton is actually still pretty awful).

I would absolutely NEVER be up for going out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, even without any childcare considerations – I’ve got no desire to be crammed in with loads of other couples, eating from an over-priced set menu surrounded by naff decorations. In previous years I’ve cooked special food, and my plan this year was to try out Jack Monroe’s mushroom, lentil and ale pie (37p per portion, #FrugalFebruary), but as noted above, I’m tired. So I used my Christmas Marks & Spencer gift card (thanks Mum!) to get us some ready-cook deliciousness (and booze). And this is what was left…

In the strictest zero waste definition (nothing going to landfill), this is zero waste because our black bin waste goes for incineration, but I totally get that I’m being facetious in my interpretation there. Actually everything went in the recycling except the cork (compost), the plastic films from the Camembert and the spinach (ecobrick) and the black plastic from the Camembert (I thought our council actually accepted black plastic for recycling, but I’ve recently learnt that they don’t). Present-wise, my husband bought me some tulips (plastic wrapper in the bin, eco footprint of cut flowers very bad), and I bought him two books about Brexit that I want to read (who said romance was dead…) and some beers. And we did give each other cards, and we also will go for a curry tomorrow night when my mum is here to babysit (again, thanks, Mum).

Is the waste from the ready-cook meal any worse than the ingredients for a home-cooked meal would have been? Probably not, unless I went on a major mission to get loose mushrooms and plastic-free lentils. What’s the ecological and climate impact of new books? (I don’t want to know, I am closing my eyes on this one for as long as I can, I just can’t bear it…) Also I know that meals at restaurants have a higher carbon footprint per head than meals cooked at home, but again I haven’t researched this properly.

So we did a pretty crap job really, but we had a nice time (we watched Best Home Cook – which I love, Claudia Winkelman is brilliant and Mary Berry is magnificent – and went to bed at 10pm, in case anyone’s interested).

Realistically, what would we do differently next year? Possibly re-use the same cards and write a new message. I quite like this idea. Possibly have more energy to buy local, plastic-free food and cook from scratch – but the I’ve got to say it doesn’t feel like much of a treat for me, as chief cook and bottle-washer. (Actual my husband is chief bottle-washer, but anyway). No more flowers? Not sure about this but it’s not exactly a regular thing here. I think we probably won’t buy wrapping paper again for any adult presents (we have 4973 gift bags in a cupboard).

I think it’s about deciding what’s important to you as a couple. I know some people despise the consumerist nature of Valentines’ Day (or Hallmark Day, as some call it), whereas some people really want to be pampered and like to be shown love through gifts and special celebrations. We like eating and watching TV, so I suspect that’s what we will continue to do to mark any and all special occasions for the next decade or so. And I will try to find some plastic-free lentils soon.

Meanwhile, this is the best Valentine’s card I’ve EVER had. (And I have limited interest in discussing zero waste toddler crafts in this context right now, although I suspect the time will come!)

Now for something completely different… (plus a lapse in my rules about stationery purchases)

This is just a quick post, completely unrelated to the Everyday Radical mission, but I wanted to share an exciting thing which has happened.

I have been working on crafting my skills as a writer in various different formats recently, and I submitted a piece of flash fiction – which may possibly be an excerpt from a forthcoming novel, in about ten years’ time – to the very excellent collaborative writers’ blog, The Finest Example (the guys who also published my article about “zero waste” as a troublesome concept).

And here it is, A King in Darkness. I’m very proud of it and super stoked that someone else thinks it’s worthy of publishing (yes, imposter syndrome having a field day here!) So if you like it, please flatter me and say nice things and share it far and wide! Also you might want to follow my other blog, Secret Scribbles in London (not so secret any more, kids!), where I share flash fiction, poetry and ramblings about my life. I have 10 followers, it’s practically a viral internet sensation already!

Just a small aside, to keep some relevance to the eco theme in case my shameless plugging is too annoying. I’ve written here about my deep and long-lasting love for stationery (which I have now learnt to spell correctly, at last). I have not, since that post, bought myself any new stationery at all. But I bought a new note-pad today for £2.49 from Ryman, because my note-pad I use for meal planning and budgeting and other fun adulting activities has just run out. The keeping of this “housewife” pad definitely contributes to reducing our food waste, so technically today’s purchase is saving the planet. And I’m a published author now, so it’s allowed. I didn’t buy any new pens though. So I still get to be smug about being zero waste. (Incidentally, they have Terracycle collections in Ryman branches now for recycling used up pens, so don’t bin your biros, folks!)

Photo by Artsy Vibes on Unsplash

Fabulous February

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Joyless January is over. The bad news, of course, is that Brex-shit happened and the General Election was not in fact a bad dream after all. The good news, though, is that it’s nearly spring, there are crocuses out in the park, and we BROKE EVEN on the household finances in January, and I feel pretty proud about that. Stuff coming up soon on food waste, batch cooking and other things which save money as well as saving the planet. (I also haven’t forgotten about “how to green your cat”, but I’m waiting for some critical information on this first.)

But first. I’m a bit slow off the mark on this, as it’s a New Year’s Resolution sort of thing. I am very bad at New Year’s Resolutions. I usually write myself a massive list of unachieveable things, then don’t manage to achieve any of them and feel like a massive failure. So I haven’t made any this year. But this is an easy one, because I feel like I’m working on my big three every day anyway. (not being a shit parent, trying to save the world, and getting thin, I think in that order. Plus, read more books. Always read more books).

I signed the Friends of the Earth 2020 climate pledge, and I think you should too. If you’re reading this blog, you will most likely know all this stuff, but the climate crisis is happening now – it’s not a distant future thing, or a far, far away thing, it’s affecting communities around the world already. I wrote about the bushfires in Australia a while back, and whilst they’re not in the headlines much now, they are still happening, and 11 million hectares of land have been affected so far.

This is the wording of the pledge:

“I pledge to join millions of people across the world and fight the climate emergency in 2020.”

440,000 people have signed it already, and while that in itself won’t make anything change, it does send out a signal to our government and corporations that the tide is turning and people want to see radical change. It will also get you onto the Friends of the Earth mailing list and they will send you information about local climate groups and Friends of the Earth’s 6 point climate action plan, which is the starting point for their lobbying of MPs and the government. (They’re not like 38 Degrees, they don’t email you every day asking for money, which is a bonus).

Because, fundamentally there’s a limit to what individuals can achieve. We can reduce meat and dairy intake, avoid single use plastics, drive less, stop flying, switch to a green energy supplier. Locally, community groups and councils can take meaningful action on climate breakdown too. But it’s the government who really need to take action to make transformational changes to end the climate emergency. But it’s so, so clear to me that they’re not doing enough.

There’s a link here to contact your MP and ask them to sign the climate pledge. I think this was initially an election thing, but I think it’s still worth doing. I wish I knew more about the most effective ways to lobby governments, and I wish I was more optimistic that the current government will actually take the climate emergency seriously. But I suspect that Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, among other organisations, know exactly what they’re doing and will exert pressure in the right ways, so I encourage you to support them and get involved where you can.

Here ends the lesson.

I wrote to Greenwich Council today about their new wheelie bin proposals to improve recycling rates, so more on that when they reply… #WatchThisSpace.

P.S. I deleted about 1000 emails today, as part of the great email purge. I didn’t really need Pinterest notifications from 2017, did I? If I suddenly get excited about elephant-themed nursery decor, I can look it up again, can’t I? I’m honestly not panicking about this, really I’m not.

Confessions of a zero waste sceptic

So I’ve been threatening to write something about the whole “zero waste” concept for a while. I wrote a piece for The Finest Example, a really great writers’ blog of creative collaboration, hosted by one of my favourite bloggers and writers, Peter Wyn Mosey Link to my article is here – it was fun to write and contains another Gruffalo reference, for those of you who remember my Terracycle post.

Essentially, the whole zero waste concept probably irrationally annoys me because of the way people have made it an aspirational, Instagrammable thing (and I’m a bit jealous of all the eco-blogs which are more successful than mine and look prettier and have ad revenue…) There are lots of useful zero waste groups on Facebook, where helpful information is shared, but they all have this propensity to descend into ridiculous bickering and one-upmanship. It usually goes like this:

“I found this great plastic free thing!” Often it’s a straw, so let’s use that example – “zero waste” straw options include paper, bamboo, glass, metal, silicone, pasta… endless possibilities. Half a million plastic straws are used across the world every day, so plastic-free options must be a good thing, right?

“Why do you need to use a straw anyway, are you a child? Just sip from a cup like a grown-up!”

Cue – flurry of posts about this being an ablist position and reminding us that a lot of disabled people need to use plastic straws. Some more posts about choice and how we all have vices and use stuff which is technically unnecessary to our basic survival sometimes (personally I don’t use straws but for a lot of people, it’s what makes life fun, apparently). Some more posts about the people who have died in metal straw-related injuries (this is a real, very rare but genuinely tragic story). Yet more posts about how stopping using plastic straws is a drop in the ocean (literally), and we should actually be giving up eating fish, as 20% of ocean plastic waste is from fishing equipment. (I’ve also read 46% in other places; how this can possibly be calculated accurately across the whole planet, I have no clue.)

Some of these debates get really vitriolic, and it honestly gives me playground flashbacks of nasty bullying girls making you feel like no matter what you do, it will never be good enough, and you won’t ever fit into the cool gang of eco-people who are “properly” zero waste. I’m sure this trigger isn’t universal and possibly says more about me than it does about them, but I’m sure I’m not entirely alone in feeling this way.

I think the absolutist nature of the statement is the most problematic for me. It’s intimidating and exclusionary and frankly unhelpful and I honestly don’t think there is any such thing as zero waste – as I outline in the article linked above. If you replace your plastic bottles with glass, they look prettier and you get to take pictures of your zero waste kitchen for Instagram, but glass uses more energy to produce, it’s heavier to transport and the glass recycling process is extremely energy-hungry. There’s a footprint to anything and everything we use and everything we do, every single day.

I thought about this earlier in the week as I sat with my husband at a concert of Beethoven symphonies at the absolutely amazing Southbank Centre. Tickets to this were my “zero waste” Christmas gift to him. But then I thought about the carbon footprint of 1000 people travelling into central London, of the power supply and heating for the auditorium, all the (presumably) single use plastic cups we were drinking our wine out of during the interval, the programmes given out for free on the door, the e-tickets I had to print out… Then I thought about all the “experience” gifts that people suggest buying for children as “zero waste” gifts, instead of the ubiquitous plastic toys. None of these will be without a carbon footprint of some kind.

So the concept of zero waste is massively flawed in my view (like any absolutist position really – any sentences that involve the words “you should always” or “you should never” make me suspicious in principle). Shoot me if you like, but I prefer “low waste” as a label, and a wider and more far-reaching view of the world than simply aspiring to be plastic-free.

Speaking of which… remember the great deodorant experiment? In which we compared the longevity and effectiveness of a £7 “natural” deodorant vs. a £1.99 “conventional” one – available in supermarkets, plastic packaging of questionable recyclability. Findings as follows: the natural deodorant I chose wasn’t really up to the job all summer long. I kept going with it for a good while, but felt pretty anti-socially aromatic at times. I reverted to my spare plastic one after my mother very politely informed me that I was extremely smelly (I had just been to the gym, to be fair). But now that one is used up so I’m in a bit of a quandry. I want to use up the natural one before I try another brand (otherwise it’s not really very zero waste at all, is it, boys and girls?), but I also want to keep my friends. So. I’ll keep you posted.

Coming up later in the week – how to “green” your cat. I’m sure he will still love me, no matter how bad I smell.

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.