In which we have a little nap

You may have noticed a small hiatus in posts…

Life has slightly been getting in the way over the last week or so – including re-establishing the small one’s naps after camp, which is VERY important to me. I don’t care that much about routine, but he does – and I definitely care about getting some time during the day to do other things (mainly, this).

Also, I’ve got that shiny-new-pencil-case feeling about the beginning of September, I know we are not yet at the “back to school” phase but it always feels a bit like that to me. So I’m just clearing the boring to do list, and brewing some ideas for a bit of a relaunch of the blog.

I’ve got a ton of ideas of things to write about, but I’m also interested to know what people want to read about. Brexit, Trump, this bloody heatwave and the rainforest fires (not necessarily in that order) have made me feel kind of depressed and anxious of late, and I just want this blog to be my little protest in my little corner. Maybe it can become something bigger with a bit of support from you guys (and a bit of research about SEO – this is search engine optimisation, apparently, and you have to know about this stuff to get more people to read your blog), and maybe it can do some good out there in the world. Cos we sure as hell need it right now.

Meanwhile, until next week, let’s go nap naps. Then wake up for snack snacks… oh not, that’s not you… Well, you can have snack snacks if you want. We like rice cakes and peanut butter round here.

Peace and love x

Center Parcs – #MyPlasticFeedback response

You might have read my previous post about our trip to Center Parcs and the concerns I raised to them afterwards about the single use plastic mountain they’re creating with disposable washing up sponges and dish cloths.

I have had a response this week from them on the feedback I sent. They say that “the Center Parcs experience is built around enabling our guests to enjoy the natural environment and, therefore, we appreciate it is vital that we play our part in protecting it.” They are “in the process of phasing out” plastic straws in their Center Parcs owned outlets, which is better than nothing of course – however, there are a load of chain restaurants within the complexes which presumably are not included in this, who may well be doing their own thing (Starbucks, Cafe Rouge, Las Iguanas etc.), but may not. Are Center Parcs putting pressure on their partners too?

A trial is apparently underway at the Elveden village (nothing on the village news page about this though…) to reduce single use toiletry items – so awful I couldn’t even go there in my feedback really, as I couldn’t think of an alternative option if this provision is something that guests really want. It would be interesting to see what other hotels and holiday parks are doing on this – do we really need tiny bottles of rubbish shampoo everywhere we go?  

Onto the dish washing (my obsession, it seems). They do reuse the tea towels – praise the Lord! But the dishcloths are binned as “they haven’t found a dishcloth that can be cleaned adequately to the standards required”. Nothing said at all about the washing up sponges.

So anyway, I’ve replied, encouraging them to keep looking for reusable options, and invited the Sustainability Manager to get in touch with me for a further chat and to feature in the blog… This is of course a massive long shot, but who knows what could happen, this could in fact be my big break! One day I will wake up to 5000 followers and an advertising request from Ecover, I know it.

Meanwhile, I suggest we all nag the tourist venues we visit to try harder on this stuff. The more I think about it all, the more I’m sure it needs organisations to take the lead to make the big changes that are needed. So pester away, people, and let me know how you get on.

Some thoughts about China – part 1

I love Chinese food. So much. When I was growing up, from the age of about 8, going to our local Chinese for the Chef’s Special meal was my birthday treat every year. My Grandma usually used to come with us, and I think she never really could believe, as someone who lived through rationing, quite how much food there was. Crispy duck is my absolute favourite.

But it’s pretty hard to tell whether any of the meat at one’s local Chinese is remotely ethical – I’m pretty sure it’s not – and I can’t even bear to do any research on duck farming, as I know the findings will be grim. So as part of our attempts to eat less meat in general, and more ethically sourced when we do, we decided on Friday night to give vegetarian Chinese takeaway a go.

We had vegetable spring rolls, mushroom rice and vegetable chow mein – all good. And tofu satay – oh dear. Spoungy, soggy tofu, sauce a bit too spicy for me, sad and slightly slimy vegetables. Also we had prawn crackers – I thought they were vegetarian, like prawn cocktail crisps, but a bit of retrospective research showed me that they do in fact contain prawns. So that was a bit of a vegetarian fail.

Overall, it felt like a worthwhile experiment, and there are plenty of other veggie options on the menu to try next time, but I wouldn’t be repeating the tofu experience.

I also encouraged (forced, actually) my long-suffering husband to take some tubs with us that we’ve saved from previous takeaways. I’ve seen people posting on plastic-free groups about taking their own tubs to takeaways and it seems like a great idea – except that I’m too socially awkward to have this conversation myself, so I delegated it to my heroic husband.

The man at the takeaway was initially reluctant to use our own tubs, until he realised they’d originally come from his shop, even though one had “Mum’s mince” written on it in faded Sharpie. Obviously they use the specific sizing of the small and large tubs to measure portion sizes, so he didn’t want to fill up a random Tupperware with chow mein, which is completely fair enough. Once that was cleared up, he was happy with it. But then gave us the spring rolls in a polystyrene carton and the whole lot in a plastic bag. Next time we will take a tub for the rolls and our own bag, but it’s baby steps…

I would have found the whole interaction totally excruciating (although I can probably manage it next time now that the precedent has been set), but my husband chirpily made a little joke to another lady waiting for her food, that he was “saving the world, one takeaway tub at a time”.

And here’s the brilliant bit – she replied (direct quote, credit to random lady on Shooters Hill Road):

“I salute you, really I do. It’s people like you who are going to save the world for my grandchildren”.

So lovely and such a deserved reward for braving the awkward conversation. It gave me some food for thought (see what I did there?) – maybe next time she will bring her own tubs, tell her family about the funny man in the takeaway and give other people the same idea. And maybe the takeaway owner might start to offer a discount if you bring your own tubs back (saves him buying new ones?), or he might think more about packaging and start using compostable or cardboard cartons instead? And the virtuous cycle continues.

But then I saw something else which made me feel a bit deflated:

“Of course I’d like to save the planet from global warming/pollution etc etc & admire extinction rebellion & those protesting, and everyday people who live their lives fully sustainable & carbon neutral etc etc – but even if the whole UK, or even Europe – became BETTER than carbon neutral, vegan & fully sustainable isn’t that a drop in the ocean when you factor in the carbon output & pollution from huge countries like China/Russia/USA/India etc? Of course we individually should do what’s right regardless – I’ve got no problem with that – but isn’t it a bit of a waste of time when there’s some huge bohemoths pumping out gazillions of shiz into the atmosphere elsewhere?”

Anon Facebook post

This post was followed by some really good discussion, including the impact of the military, the impact of “our” (“developed countries” demand on these countries’ goods, the move towards renewable energy in some countries vs. the return towards greater dependency on fossil fuel in others, and the interesting differences when you compare a country’s total emissions and the emissions per capita for its residents.

Anyway, it got me thinking a lot more – which is why this is Part 1 of the post and I will write more about this in a couple of days once I’ve done some more reading on the issues raised. For sure, we’re not going to actually save the world one takeaway tub at a time, so maybe we should just relax and enjoy it, stop worrying, eat the cheese and the unethically-reared meat and chuck the packet in the river? Of course we’re not going to do that – I do believe that every little helps, or at least stops it getting worse. But is there any way we can influence government policies, especially in other countries? Is it too late? It’s complicated, for sure.

What do you think?

More soon.

The story so far – 1 month in

People buy birthday cakes for their baby’s one month birthday – this is actually a thing. The things I discover through Google image search… I’ll say it again, louder for the people at the back – over-consumption is the problem on this planet!

So I started this blog a month ago and I thought I would just do a little stock take of where we’re at so far. 18 posts, 34 followers, 1188 views over 768 visits from 27 countries and 39 comments. Definitely some people who I don’t know IRL reading, which is very exciting – good to know it’s not just my friends humouring me!

Some promised posts I owe you, which will be coming fairly soon: trying to find out what really happens to my recycling in Greenwich, watching people arguing on the internet about paper bags, giving up micro-rice, following up on #smokegate with Greenwich Council, No Buy July and getting over my hatred of eBay. Also the famous singing dumper truck, Ecobricks and my baby clothes stash of shame.

Some really interesting stuff has come up in the comments too, so thanks to everyone who’s engaging. Things I am thinking about and plan to write about in due course:

  • The Government’s 2018 Waste Strategy and what this means for the recycling industry.
  • The efficacy and impact of putting pressure on Councils about recycling, and on supermarkets about packaging. And petitions – are they worth the effort?
  • What’s the carbon footprint of driving stuff to recycling centres and does it negate the benefit of the recycling?
  • What’s the ecological impact of different plant-milks and what would the global implications be if we all became vegan?
  • Someone commented, brilliantly, that plastic is the cover and distraction from dealing with society’s real issue of over-consumption – what can we do about this, and the bad bits of capitalism? (is it all bad?)
  • Is food labelling meaningless? What welfare standards can we trust – not Red Tractor, for sure.
  • Should we give up takeaways?
  • Should I keep some chickens, or get a goat?

Other stuff to follow-up: home-made gift tags and cards (and toddler craft scissors…), chasing Center Parcs about their eco-sins, more research on eco laundry and dishwasher tablet solutions, the mighty Sir David Attenborough’s speech as Glastonbury which I still haven’t watched, and maybe buying a yoghurt-maker.

I also need to do some really boring research on how to use WordPress more effectively – if anyone has any knowledge to share about plugins, layout hacks etc., I would be grateful.

Also after recommendations for: vegan restaurants in South-East or Central London and brands of bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo/conditioner bars.

Should I do a Facebook page? (Nooooooo Intagram or Pinterest.)

If you’re liking what I’m doing, please do share, comment, retweet and all that stuff. I’m enjoying blogging and it’s great to see the audience increasing.

Peace and Love

xx

More balls please, Wimbledon – time to ban plastic bottles?

It’s that time of year when we all sit on our sofas and offer our wise commentary on the best tennis players in the world locking horns at Wimbledon. I haven’t watched much, but enjoyed the Federer-Nadal semi-final and will be watching this afternoon’s men’s final.

Wimbledon have been under pressure for some time though to rid the event of plastic bottles – Glastonbury and Lord’s cricket ground have managed it, so why can’t the All England Lawn Tennis Club follow suit? There’s a petition here, and it seems a pretty straightforward argument.

If there are, say, 967 matches in a Wimbledon tournament (singles, doubles, qualifiers, juniors, wheelchair competitors and seniors/invitation doubles – yes I sat and added them up), and every player gets given 2 bottles per match, this is 4658 plastic bottles for the players, at an absolute minimum. The carbon footprint of a plastic bottle is estimated to be 82.8g of carbon dioxide per 500ml bottle, so this adds up to 385kg, just for the players. An estimated 420,000 bottles are used across the whole tournament, which equates to an enormous 34 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (this totally might be an incorrect calculation – my maths is crap – but it’s loads).

But it’s ok, because they’re recycled, and recyclable.

Evian have been the official water supplier at Wimbledon since 2008 and renewed their sponsorship deal in 2017, to extend until 2022. They’ve promised to make all their bottles from recycled plastic by 2025, and this year at Wimbledon they are piloting bottles made from 100% recycled PET; this is an attempt to move from a linear model to a circular one (another article here on this from the sexily-named Packaging News – don’t tell me I never give you anything). Evian are also working with Loop (remember them from the Terracycle post?) to enable a continuous loop for recycling at high volume.

So I was thinking about this, and whether it does make it all okay, or whether it’s yet another big green wash to make us believe that Evian are super-eco and ethical, while they’re actually just trying to get us to buy more pointless bottles of overpriced water. Of course it’s better that the water bottles are recycled and recyclable, keeping plastic out of landfill and the ocean, but what about the carbon footprint of making them in the first place, and the onward recycling? Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t exist at all?

What are the alternatives for Wimbledon, and similar sporting events? Provide all the players with Evian-branded reusable water bottles? Lots of them seem to be decanting their own energy drinks into Evian bottles anyway, rather than drinking water on court. But what if a player forget to bring their regulation Evian bottle to a match – do they get given another one? What’s the carbon footprint of making x-00 reusable plastic bottles? (I haven’t got the time to calculate how many players compete in the tournament, sorry!) Or should Wimbledon ditch the Evian sponsorship and ask players and spectators to bring their own bottles? (And sell Wimbledon-branded ones to those who forget?) Would that impact on ticket prices – and should we even care about that? Are they contractually able to divorce themselves from Evian anyway, after extending the sponsorship deal?

Or have we forgotten that plastic is evil, and we should only be using stainless steel? Except you have to reuse a stainless steel bottle 500 times to cancel out the carbon impact of its energy-intensive manufacture. I can’t find many sources for a similar calculation for how many times a plastic reusable water bottle would have to be used, although this article suggests it might be as few as three times.

To be fair, Wimbledon seem to be doing quite a lot of impressive work to improve the sustainability of the event and I’m sure they will respond to the petition in due course, but it’s food for thought on our own water-bottle usage. I’ve got a brilliant pink plastic reusable bottle which I love, but it took me a while to find the right one which didn’t leak. My husband was given a stainless steel bottle at a festival recently, which he didn’t use much as he had brought his plastic one – so does he owe that one 500 uses to justify its existence? Lots of people don’t want to buy expensive reusable bottles for their kids, as they get lost or smashed. Nothing is simple, it seems!

I’ve got no definitive position on this, other than that we should use what we’ve got and look after it, so answers on a (recycled) postcard, please.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a beautiful bit of ocean (taken at the Paros Philoxenia hotel, one of my favourite places on this magnificent planet), to remind us what we’re doing all this for.

Everyday activism – does pester power work? #MyCenterParcsFeedback

Magnificent giant redwoods at Center Parcs, Longleat

Pester power is a thing, right? Children are manipulated by the media and advertising into wanting something, then pressurise their parents endlessly to get it, and they eventually give in. I seem to remember this being the reason you often can’t buy chocolate at supermarket tills anymore. I can’t imagine many toddlers tantrumming over batteries and ibuprofen these days.

The last episode of the BBC documentary War on Plastic invited viewers to “pester” retailers by returning unwanted plastic packaging to the supermarkets, and post on social media with the #OurPlasticFeedback tag. I’ve seen a lot of this shared on Twitter in the last week, with mainly the same generic responses from the supermarkets about what they’re doing to reduce plastic waste. Most worryingly is all the promises to make more of it recyclable – when we know that the UK recycling system is overwhelmed and dysfunctional, with large amounts of waste being sent to landfill anyway due to contamination or inappropriate items being put in the recycling, or sent overseas with no audit trail of whether it is actually recycled, burnt or put in landfill.

There’s a real feeling for me that none of the actions needed are happening fast enough, and we as consumers can’t do much about it – the sheer scale of the problem requires corporations to make the high-impact changes.

But a bit of pestering feels quite good, so I think we should keep at it, and highlight things as we come across them to put pressure on companies to get better at this stuff and be accountable for their environmental impact.

So anyway, we went to Center Parcs at Longleat last week with the small one and some members of the grandparental team. It was brilliant, we all had an amazing time – lovely site with some awesome trees, a lot of “splish splash” and we even managed a couple of date nights, with free babysitting. Thanks Grandad and Granny!

But this upset me a lot, especially as you all know I am obsessed with dishwashing.

One disposable washing up sponge per lodge for each stay x approx 800 lodges x 6 Center Parcs villages in the UK (not even thinking about the villages in Europe) x 97% occupancy over 52 weeks = something like 242,112 sponges used per year, ending up in landfill or incinerated. Not to mention the horrible thought that each dishcloth (made of grim microfibre polyester stuff) and tea towel might also be thrown away after each stay. So I’ve written to them and tweeted them to see if they have any plans to switch to reusable options. (Also heaped a ton of praise on the staff members we encountered, all of whom, without exception, were excellent).

I’ve also been hassling Greenwich Council about a local air pollution issue and their lack of action to address it, in writing and copied to my local MP and councillors. What has particularly irritated me is the Council’s declaration of a climate emergency and requests on Twitter for people to pledge to have a bonfire free summer for Clean Air Day, while ignoring local issues which flout air quality laws.

#greenwashing

Essentially, this whole climate situation is making me feel quite anxious and a bit angry that it’s so hard to make the right choices in the face of companies who won’t make changes quickly enough, for fear of impacting their bottom line. And it’s made me feel a bit better and a bit more in control to start complaining about stuff. I highly recommend it. I’m not convinced it will make any difference, but it’s got to be worth a try, right?

Just another angry voice? Some thoughts about originality, social media and “the climate bandwagon”

Over the last few days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been absolutely buzzing with people talking about the #WarOnPlastic. This buzz has crystalized some thoughts for me about what I see as the point of this blog, and also about the social media response to the climate crisis.

First up – this blog is not original thought! I don’t want to purport to be thinking up brilliant solutions that no one else has thought about. We all know that climate change is serious, plastic pollution is terrible and we should do something about it.* Anyone can do a bit of research on free range eggs and bamboo toothbrushes.

Maybe I might help someone out with an idea they hadn’t thought about which helps them make a change, or inspire someone with a new perspective, or I might actually think of something super radical which no one has thought about before. Or maybe no one will ever read this and I’m just howling into the void, but at least I’m documenting our own journey trying to make the world a better place.

Either way, I’m not super special, or super “woke” –  I’m just another angry voice. And if there’s one thing that Extinction Rebellion taught me, it’s that we need more angry voices.

What I’m finding a bit weird though, and anyone who knows me personally will not be surprised at my need to have a rant about this, is people being so bloody smug about it on social media.**

In the last couple of days I’ve seen:

  • Someone being completely demolished on a well-known parenting forum (I know, I shouldn’t read it… but it is useful sometimes!) for describing themselves as a “relaxed vegan”. The context was that they had accidentally fed their “militantly vegan” friend something with fish oil in, which is not cool of course. But the subsequent abuse she got for not being a full card-carrying vegan every single day was brutal.
  • Incredulous people on Twitter berating the lady in the first episode of The War on Plastic for her miniature multi-wrapped cheeses. Yes, they’re terrible for plastic pollution, but I bet practically everyone has got some unaddressed equivalent in their house (for us, it’s micro rice and Little Yeo yoghurts… to be continued). She made a small change in response to someone explaining to her the impact of her shopping habits, and every little helps, surely?
  • Absolutely tons of smugness regarding the baby wipes issue – it’s bloody brilliant that loads of people have given them up already. But actually, I didn’t know they contained plastic either and I feel super bad about still using them (pretty sparingly now), even though I would never in a million years flush them. I’m going to try an alternative solution from tomorrow… watch this space.

The whole thing sort of reminds me of being 13 and having to suddenly stop liking a band because they’d got too popular and “sold out”. Or at least crowing about how I’ve liked them for ages and I know the bassist’s middle name and the drummer’s star sign, so I’m MUCH cooler than you. I decided when I was about 14 and three quarters that life was too short for this crap, and if I liked some music I would carry on liking it, even if they suddenly sold loads of records. And actually, it’s great if people start to like your favourite musicians – they start to get more recognition and make more money and have more choices, which is ace.

On that note, check out Tankus the Henge, Emily Barker, Wychek and Jacob & Drinkwater if you feel inspired to. (Cripes, I’m so cool).

So if you think being vegan is great, and you’ve already been vegan for 20 years because you believe it’s important to consume less animal products to help protect the planet, you should be STOKED that it’s now so trendy. Please share all your vegan recipes with your part-time/relaxed vegan pals.

If you’ve already achieved zero waste nirvana, that’s also awesome – please share you wisdom with the newly enthused.

I’m pretty stoked too to be on the climate bandwagon. We’re all at different stages on this journey, and it’s a mega important journey. So let’s all be nice to each other.

And if anyone has a brand of bamboo toothbrushes they’d like to recommend, please get in touch!

* Actually, I think we probably don’t all know this. The echo chamber of my social media contacts all know this and want to do something about this. But any trip to a park at the end of a sunny day will prove that litter is still a massive problem. I walked past a fly-tipped sofa and some dumped building waste on my street yesterday. Not everyone “gets it”, and I suppose the next level challenge is seeking to understand that and work towards changing it. Climate change denial is a whole other picnic.

** NOT my friends, I hasten to add. Mostly people in the zero waste and eco living Facebook groups I’ve joined, and also a bunch of random Twitter commenters.

The Everyday Radical

I was inspired to start this blog shortly after my husband and I walked away from the Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge in London in April 2019.

I was torn – should we stay and sing protest songs with our friends, and face a real risk of being arrested and not being able to get home to our young son? (Objectively of course we knew he was safe at home with Grandma, but still…) Or would he look me in the eye in 18 years’ time and ask me why I didn’t protest, rebel, stand up and be counted to protect the planet that his future depends on?

My husband and I went to get moderately drunk in a pub in London Bridge instead. We were then, and remain now, completely unable to fathom the complex challenges ahead – for the human race as a whole and for us as a tiny part of it, a fairly ordinary family living frugally on one income in zone 3. What can you do, if you’re not quite brave enough to get arrested and a bit too conventional to go off-grid?

We can’t all go and chain ourselves to the rain forest in Brazil, even if our hearts call us in that direction. Our responsibilities keep us confined in the weird brick and glass boxes that we call home, in our little microcosms of society, our villages, our towns, our workplaces and the communities surrounding our children.

But we can be a little bit radical every day, and if more and more of us get a little bit more radical, perhaps we will reach a tipping point. Whatever you think about the environment and climate change (and poverty, and prejudice, and whatever else I might decide to ramble on about here) – I hope there’s some common ground and some interesting thoughts here. Unless you agree with Donald Trump about climate change, in which case we are unlikely to get on, and it’s probably best we part company now.

So here’s how it’s going to work (and I am a Gemini so I reserve the right to change my mind on this): I take a question, an idea, a concept that relates to ethical or ecological living. I dig deep and explore it and draw some conclusions about how to make a difference, in a practical family-friendly way. Then I implement the change in my own family and let you know how I get on. And every now and again I might share some photos of vegan cake, or my (non-vegan) cat looking cute.

Two promises though: no bare-foot hippy stuff (or hardly any…), and definitely not another boring mum blog moaning about sleepless nights and recommending which stylish changing bag to choose.

Just an ordinary mum, making everyday radical changes to save the world for her extraordinary son.

(with a really un-stylish changing bag)

Credits to Helen Yeomans and the London One World Choir for getting us to Waterloo Bridge in the first place, and to @DuchessStoHelit and @SharkySaysRelax for blog naming brainstorming skills.