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.