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!)
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
So I’ve been threatening to write about ecobricks for a while, and a discussion on a Facebook group last night prompted me to get on with it, once and for all. I’ve been feeling conflicted about the ecobrick concept for a while, and I’m hoping that writing about it will bring me nearer to a conclusive decision.
Here’s a summary article about the whole ecobrick concept. Essentially, you take all your non-recyclable plastic, chop it up small and shove it into an empty plastic bottle (which has to be clean and scrupulously dry to prevent mould forming), to a specified density. It can then be used as a building block. The idea is that this prevents this plastic from entering landfill, being incinerated (creating CO2 emissions) or ending up in the ocean; effectively, it locks the plastic away from the ecosystem and transforms it into a useful material which is beneficial to the community, and maximises plastic’s durable nature. As I keep on coming back to, I think that plastic itself is not the enemy; the overuse of single use plastic and the disposal thereof is problematic, but long-term durable plastic, looked after and used sensibly, is actually pretty useful. (Remember how much I love tupperware, for example).
Critical to the ecobrick mission is the idea that the very time-consuming process of washing and drying your plastic is a meditation on your use of single-use plastic, and should prompt you to consider how you can reduce and refuse, rather than using the ecobrick as a form of appeasing your conscience for your plastic use.
Here’s a picture of our plastic management system – it’s a sock drier I think, hanging up in our kitchen at the moment (conveniently next to the cleaning cupboard, in a clockwise direction in the spirit of How to green your kitchen part 1). When it’s sunny we hang it outside on the washing line – our neighbours must think we’re pretty mad to be drying our salad bags in the sunshine. Some of the stuff hanging on here at the moment is actually for Terracycle (I’ll come back to Terracycle another time, as I’m having continuing qualms about it since my original post), and the big freezer bag I will reuse until it disintegrates. The process has really helped us to review what we’re using and make different choices, such as almost completly stopping using microrice and switching to bigger pots of yoghurt and washing powder in a box rather than tablets in plastic casing.
BUT I’ve got some problems with the concept.
Firstly, it’s really, really hard to find a project to take your bricks. Theoretically, there’s a network called GoBrik which exists to help you find where you can drop off your bricks to become part of a community project to build garden furniture or playground equipment for example. But a lot of the projects listed seem to be defunct, and people don’t reply to messages of inquiry, or there’s nothing local available. However, the official Ecobrick stance encourages people to take responsibility for their own plastic and retain their bricks themselves by making something for their own home or garden. The idea is that the “throwaway” idea of giving away your waste to someone else reduces your sense of responsibility and is the same as simply putting everything in the recycling bin without thinking about what really happens to it. Do we believe our local authorities are actually processing everything for recycling, or do we suspect that hard-to-recycle plastic is being sent overseas and ending up in the ocean? Equally, do we know that the project where we drop off our ecobrick is going to use it responsibly, to the end of its life?
But what if you haven’t got the time or the skills to build something yourself? If you actively seek a project to drop your bricks off to on the Facebook network, the response can be quite aggressive, with lots of people telling you to make something yourself rather than outsourcing the problem. In fact, the aggressive nature of the Ecobrick Facebook community is pretty off-putting in itself. So you end up with a bunch of bricks in your shed and no idea what to do with them.
Say you do find a project, or build a planter out of your bricks for your own garden. What happens in 500 years? Will they explode and spread tiny particles of plastic everywhere? Is it a time bomb? Would it have been better for it to be incinerated after all? Similarly worryingly, I know of some projects in schools which have been run by volunteers who aren’t properly clued up about the density requirements, so they may well be making structures for children to use which aren’t safely load-bearing, or using bricks that will go mouldy and degrade because people haven’t been instructed clearly enough on how rigorous the cleaning process has to be.
I also see scarily frequent posts on social media talking about how ecobricks can be “sent to developing countries for building projects” – I’m assuming that this has become mythologised because the concept originated in Indonesia, but I feel that this perpetuates the post-colonial approach to waste disposal, when we’ve seen the consequences of western/developed countries sending their unwanted waste to developing countries that haven’t got the infrastructure to deal with it properly, and the environmental carnage this is causing. (Sorry if I’m using the wrong words, it’s difficult to know what the least patronising phraseology is).
So I don’t feel too great about Ecobricks at the moment. I’m still trying to find a project, either in London or near to where other family members live to enable drop-off, while being mindful of the need to avoid complacency and a “giving away the problem” mentality. I may end up making a crap plant pot out of ours in the end (I am notoriously shit at artistic endeavors), then bequeathing it through the next 25 generations of my family… Unless we can start breeding plastic-eating worms to deal with the problem for us. But I do think it’s a useful process in monitoring your single-use plastic use, so for now we will carry on doing it. And suffering the very unbeautiful plastic sock sculpture in our kitchen as penance for our plastic sins.
This is a contentious topic and I would love to know other people’s thoughts on this. So press the comment button and argue with me please! (in a respectful way, of course – unless I’ve inadvertently said something really daft).
So unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ll already know it’s the Global Climate Strike today.
As usual I feel a bit torn about my reluctance to hit the streets – primarily because I would have to drag along a very crowd and noise-averse toddler and it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. I have friends with less sensitive and slightly bigger small ones who are joining the marches in London, and lots of friends in other parts of the country joining various events too.
Millions of people all over the world are out today, increasing global awareness of the climate emergency which we are facing and demanding that our governments take immediate action on climate change. This comes ahead of the UN climate action summit taking place in New York on 23rd September, when world leaders will discuss how to reduce carbon emissions, with the aim of preventing global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C under the Paris agreement.
The Guardian coverage is pretty good on this, as usual, with some good FAQs to remind us how dire the situation is, if we didn’t already know.
It’s quite hard to feel empowered at the moment, I think. Even if you are striking, how do we know that the government will listen? How do we know that big corporations will listen? How do we know that the changes that are being made in the supermarkets and by big consumer companies aren’t just green washing to persuade us to keep buying their products, which we don’t really need?
And is individual action pointless? We all know that you going vegan and me stopping driving and Sally stopping buying plastic bottles of Coke isn’t enough. So should we just give up, get drunk and forget about it all? ( We are going to a wedding this weekend so I suspect this this is, briefly, exactly what we are going to do).
This is a good long read about why the answer to the above question is NO. Maybe we’re at a tipping point of individual action. Maybe my actions influence yours, and yours influence your Aunty Doris, and she influences Uncle Bob, and there’s a trickle of change which becomes a flood. And maybe it’s just immoral to look the other way.
It’s stressful caring about this stuff.
So here’s a nice picture of a tree to remind us what the bloody point of it all is.
Proactive, positive change stuff coming next week, rather than middle-class first world angst. Promise. xx
So… the big news was that I was invited to be in the audience of the live filming of The Martin Lewis Money Show Live, on Tuesday evening in Wapping. I had a plus 1 and everything, and Mr EverydayRadical and I were excited about going for pizza afterwards. Almost as excited about the pizza as about the whole TV thing, to be perfectly honest.
BUT – we couldn’t go, for various dull reasons that I’m not going to bore you with. I wrote half this post before that decision though, so I’ve adapted it to hopefully be somehow interesting reading anyway.
I thought that the programme was going to be a Brexit special, discussing how Brexit is likely to impact various aspects of people’s household finances. Having watched it, the programme actually had a much broader brush than that, but anyhow… I think it’s an open process to apply for tickets or submit questions to be in the audience, but I was put onto it by a cat sitting client who’s read the blog, specifically my Brexit post, and thought I might be interested (I know! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!). So I got in touch with the researcher and discussed potential questions to put to Martin.
He’s written a really interesting article about some of the possible financial ramifications of Brexit. But I was wondering about the cross-over between the financial impact and the environmental impact. So I started to think about two things – energy costs and overseas travel. I’m going to share my thoughts about renewable energy in this post.
We’re being told that we are likely to see increased energy bills after we leave the EU, especially if it’s a no deal Brexit. This is because we import increasing amounts of electricity from Europe (currently 7%, on track to increase to 20% by 2025), and the falling pound is making our bills higher already. There were pre-referendum warnings about the impact of leaving the EU Internal Energy market, but, y’know, boring experts, yadayadayada. According to this article, there’s also a possibility that in the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK could face third-party costs to use the power lines which connect Britain to European power markets, which would raise the overall cost of the energy. So far, so predictable.
What I didn’t quite understand is the impact on renewable energy – somewhere in my memory I have this belief that the EU subsidises renewable energy, so Brexit could impact on the cost and availability of this. I am particularly interested in this as we have just switched to a 100% renewable tariff with the Green Energy Network – this is quite an interesting thing in itself, as the supplier can’t guarantee that the power that goes into your house via the National Grid is actually from a renewable source, as this is dependent on demand and supply at any given time. But the Green Energy Network guarantees that for every unit your household uses, they will buy the equivalent amount in renewable energy. Here’s some good stuff about how the energy market works.
So anyway. It’s all quite depressing really. I don’t think the current government are taking climate crisis seriously enough and I think the Brexit show is distracting everyone from the most important stuff.
So I may not have been to the Money Show, but my top tip for this week is – get onto uSwitch and look for a fixed term renewable energy tariff, now, to lock in a price before the recession hits and prices start to increase. Our switch should save us £15 a month and we’re voting with our feet in favour of renewable energy. It sometimes feels to me that our only real power is as consumers. The other power is being well-informed – this is a good long read about the current and future state of the UK power industry, some of it quite uplifting.
Anyway, back to BBC Parliament… posts coming soon about how we’ve done in September on the No Buy strategy, my new plan for meat eating (or not) and yet another post about dishwashing. I also kind of want to write a rant about health visitors, but maybe I need to start another blog for that.