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!)

Magic and Sparkles?

Anyone thinking about Christmas yet…? I realise that talking about Christmas in September may be almost as controversial as Brexit, but as far as I’m concerned, once the Quality Street tins are in the shops, all bets are off. Anyway, I’m following The Organised Christmas plan this year, in an attempt to get into good habits for future years, when there’s more child-related madness, and possibly more children. The idea is that you get everything done by December 1st, then just concentrate on having a nice time. Super Mum stuff, really. We’ll see…

But the problem I have here is that I sort of hate a lot of what Christmas has become. I love the eating and drinking, watching films, going for wintry walks and being with family (mostly!). I just bloody hate the consumerist crap and all the useless, pointless s**t that we are encouraged to buy that we don’t need. Back in the days when I was more spiritually invested in Christmas, it used to really upset me that all this consumption was a far cry from the “real” meaning of Christmas. Now I’m less attached to the religious aspect, but even more bothered by the environmental impact. All that extra food wrapped in plastic, all those plastic toys which might be played with for a few minutes and then discarded, destined for landfill or incineration. (Funnily enough I feel less guilt-ridden about the empty wine bottles, but we can talk about glass recycling another time. And please, God, can someone find me a plastic free cheeseboard selection? Because that’s one sacrifice too many for me right now).

So I’m searching for good news stories about what companies are doing to mitigate the impact of Christmas and I came across this – Marks and Spencer are banning glitter from their cards, crackers, wrapping paper and calendars this Christmas, in a bid to reduce the volume of microplastics ending up in the ocean. They’re following in the footsteps of Tesco, who’ve switched to plastic-free glitter for their Christmas range of plants, trees and flowers, and Aldi, who’ve banned glitter from their Halloween range this year. Hobbycraft have launched biodegradable glitter and promised to be totally plastic glitter free by 2021, and Waitrose have made a similar pledge to Mark and Spencer, but by 2020. Even Strictly Come Dancing have banned glitter. So it’s great that companies are paying attention to consumer pressure on the plastic issue and taking action.

So why can’t we just, well, ban it completely? It’s not like straws where there’s a credible need for some people to use them (interesting stuff on this here). Does anyone need plastic glitter? I don’t think so. There’s a petition here calling for a total ban – please consider signing it, cos we all know how much notice this Government takes of petitions…

I’m thinking that, like so many aspects of the Christmas consumption-fest, we’ve been conditioned to think that we need sparkly stuff to make it “Christmassy”. But we just don’t. We need family and community and love, and ideally a bit of feasting. I want to read some more stuff about the history of Christmas, how we got to where we are now and how far away now we are from the original mid-winter Saturnalia festival. One thing I’m sure of is that we need to radically think our ideas of “magic and sparkles” if we want to celebrate our festivals in a way that’s respectful to Mother Earth.

No Glasto FOMO

Glastonbury 2019 is coming to a close today, and I’ve got no FOMO at all. Seriously, none. Maybe a tiny bit for the amazing food and the Green Fields vibes – but the crowds and the chaos and the long drops, no thanks.

I’ve been twice, in 2015 and 2016, performing with Shakti Sings choir, directed at that time by my amazing friend Susie Ro Prater (clip of our singing from 2015 here). The first year was great – sunny weather, hardly any mud and I was in the first flushes of blossoming love with my now husband. The second year was SO awful in comparison. Terrible weather and horrendous mud. We arrived on the Tuesday night and honestly by Thursday I’d had enough. Then the EU referendum happened. I will never forget sitting in the Greenpeace cafe at 7am watching Glastonbury slowly waking up to the news, a result which most people at the festival were shocked and saddened by.

So now, with a toddler in tow, I don’t think anything could persuade me to go. I know some people take small babies and tots to big festivals – they must be a lot cooler and more relaxed as parents than me, I can’t imagine anything less fun.

I always found the litter hugely depressing too, so I was interested to read about the pledge from Emily Eavis towards a greener festival. The true spirit of Glastonbury to me has always been radical, and the drive towards sustainability and living in harmony with the environment should indeed remain central to the Glastonbury ethos. Two thirds of the 23,500 tons of waste generated by UK festivals annually is estimated to end up in landfill and clearly this needs to change.

So the Glastonbury team have banned the sale of single use plastic bottles on the site, and installed taps for water bottle refills instead. The jury seems to be out so far on the actual impact of this though – I’ve seen a lot of photos like this one, showing loads of rubbish littering the site as it has done in previous years.

Photo credit to Stephen Roberts, via Glasto Goers Facebook group.

A lot of this litter seems to be food packaging and drinks cups, all of which is supposed to be compostable at this year’s festival, but I wonder if there’s some mileage in introducing reusable cups and crockery, as other festivals plan have already done or plan to introduce. Kendall Calling has a scheme where festival-goers get a small amount of money back when they return their coffee cup for reuse and Greenbelt introduced reusable cups at their bars in 2016. In all honesty I think mandating it is probably the only answer, to change behaviours consistently.

The other big festival waste problem is people leaving tents behind – this petition addresses this issue with tent manufacturers, asking them to stop selling “festival tents”, which implies single use, and to brand these differently to encourage care and reuse.

So I think my Glastonbury days are over, and our future lies at smaller, more family-friendly festivals such as Beautiful Days and Fire in the Mountain. Maybe I will feel a small pang watching my all-time favourine band The Cure on TV tonight when they’re headlining the Pyramid stage. But when I go to the fridge to get some lovely cold wine, use my nice clean toilet and finally go to sleep in my nice comfy bed, the feeling will be pure JOMO (JOY of missing out).