Revamped website! Widgets! (And an update on the email hoarding situation)

Web design and technology is not my strongest skill – I like writing and researching and thinking, mainly. But I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the Everyday Radical website was looking a bit rubbish. Like all writers, I would love more people to read my work (I think some of it at least is a valuable contribution to the eco issues debate, and people keep telling me it’s quite good). But having a super basic blog home page doesn’t help with that mission. So I am learning VERY SLOWLY how to use WordPress to its full potential. I’ve got a long way to go, and very limited time these days, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve redesigned the blog so it looks a bit sexier. And also, WIDGETS! (These are little WordPress features that you can add to your site to aid navigation, provide links to your social media etc.) I thought they were very complicated, but actually they’re quite straightforward.

New on the blog page, down the right hand side – over here >>>>>>>>

You can click to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. The “follow my blog” button is easier to find and there’s a list of recent posts, and an archive menu by month too. And categories! So if you read a post about washing up, for example, and you want to read some more of my ramblings about kitchen-related eco switches, you can find the category and find all the blog posts. This was pretty fun to put together, sorting through the archive. Weirdly, the dish washing posts are some of the most popular posts I’ve written. My readership must be washing up liquid geeks.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the new look, and the new features. Let me know what you think. More to come when I learn how to create pages – not the same thing as posts, it seems!

Briefly too, on the subject of technology. I wrote about my email hoarding tendencies back in January, with a promise to change my ways due to the carbon footprint of storing thousands of emails. Also there was a significant mental load of having 5500 emails in my inbox, it felt like a massive to do list that would never get cleared. I promised you guys I would get it down to less than 100 by the end of March.

So as of today, it’s at 302. Which feels like progress… I also deleted a massive amount of archived work emails form years ago which I will never need. But I also have to confess that I moved a LOT out of my inbox into sub folders. I’m not going to tell you how many but I’ve just counted them up and I’m a bit shocked, as there’s still an enormous bunch of stuff sitting on servers whirring away because I’ve got some odd hoarding disorder and I can’t bring myself to delete them. Most of them I am saving for a reason (quite a lot, for example, are idea leads for this blog), but the reality of how much I still have left is a bit of a wake up call. I am really interested in the psychology of hoarding, so perhaps I need to have a bit of a closer look at myself! (Digital hoarding is a thing, by the way – not much studied, but definitely a thing, which is probably on the increase).

Back to the climate impact point though. Sending and receiving emails and storing files on the cloud all has a carbon footprint, due to the servers that it’s all held on and the power they use, the energy used to run computers themselves and send and receive messages. Sure, per message it’s microscopic, but it all adds up. So I repeat my challenge to you all, folks – use your lockdown downtime (if you have any!) to clear out your mailboxes and your saved files and unsubscribe to mailing lists that you’re not really reading (they just encourage you to buy stuff you don’t need anyway). You will feel mentally cleansed, I promise you, and help to save the planet too. Every little helps, as they say (and I bet you’ve got some emails in your archive from them too!)

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!)

Confessions of a zero waste sceptic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pointless emails, and confessions of an electronic hoarder

I’ve been struggling a bit with email etiquette in my current freelance gig. A lot of the people I’m in contact with are people I’ve never met in real life, which is pretty normal for freelance work – but these guys are all in substantive, mainly office-based jobs so I imagine aren’t often interacting with people they don’t know personally.

So I’m being really, really polite. Lots of emails saying things like, “thanks so much for coming back to me so quickly on this.”

I remembered reading an article a few months back about the climate impact of emails, and saving it to read later (more on my digital hoarding tendencies later). I reflected on this particularly over Christmas, when I read a lot about people sending e-cards instead of physical cards, as an environmental measure to reduce waste.

So I dug the articles out of the archive today and discovered the following facts, from a study by Ovo energy supplier in November:

  • Britons send 64 million unnecessary emails per day (just Britons… thinking about the global scale here is scary).
  • If each adult in Britain sent one less email per day, this would reduce annual carbon output by 16,433 tonnes. This is the equivalent of 81,152 flights from London to Madrid, or taking 3334 diesel cars off the road.
  • 71% of Britons wouldn’t mind not receiving a “thank you” email if it helped the environment.
  • 49% of Britons admit to sending emails daily to people who are within talking distance.

There’s a basic summary of the research here, and a slightly more interesting analytical piece in the Guardian here. Professor Mike Berners-Lee, a researcher and writer on carbon footprints at the University of Lancaster, advised OVO on the research, and he acknowledges that the numbers are crude estimates, but that the study emphasises the large and growing carbon footprint of IT. Your computer uses energy, the network through which you send emails uses energy and the storage of those emails on a cloud requires energy to run the data centre.

I haven’t quite worked out the solution to the conundrum of how to handle this situation in a freelance context – probably I need to get on the phone and work on building relationships, so it doesn’t feel like emailing strangers. But it seems sensible for most office-based folks to be working to reduce these pointless emails and replace them with conversations wherever possible. It doesn’t help when there’s documents to be shared, or an audit trail is required (but sometimes that’s a symptom of mistrust, which is interesting in itself). But if it’s just a quick “thanks” to Dave who sits in the next cubicle, you could say that as you walk past and offer to make him a coffee. Maybe if you’re worried about people thinking you’re a rude tosser, write a little footer for your emails like the ones people use asking you not to print their email to save trees: “If I don’t email back to say thanks for this email, I’m not being rude, I’m saving the planet!” Smiley face, thumbs up emoticon. Well, maybe not the emoticon. (Also, EverydayRad’s top email etiqeutte top tip – don’t put kisses on emails to your boss. Ever. Even if you love them. Even if it’s Friday night and you’ve had some wine.)

I’m procrastinating here on addressing the issue of my digital hoard. I’ve been reading around a bit on email culture and reflecting on my previous jobs – the always-on culture is damaging, for sure. Interesting article here on fixing our unhealthy obsession with work email (this is an HBR article, there’s a paywall after you’ve read 6 free articles). Another one here on the cost of continuously checking work emails and its impact on efficiency and creativity. Easier said than done to address this stuff, and I never managed it properly in a demanding full-time job, but it’s food for thought.

Anyway. Confession time. I currently have 5500 emails in my hotmail inbox. And I’m pathologically unable to just delete them all, despite my husband’s urging whenever he looks over my shoulder and sees the number on my screen, even though a lot of them are irrelevant now as they’ve been there so long. What if they’re really interesting? What if I miss something? I also have hundreds of articles and posts saved on Facebook – mainly things I want to blog about. It’s like a huge digital “to read” list and it actually makes me feel a bit anxious thinking about it. I’ve found a few questionable sources (which I’m not going to share because I think the research is a bit dodgy and I haven’t had time to check it out properly – oooh it’s that digital “to do” list again!) which says that the impact of storing an email is equivalent to one plastic bag, or 10g of carbon.

So, dear readers. I am accountable to you lot and I’m setting myself a target to get my inbox down to less than 100 by the end of March. It will help me feel cognitively clearer too, I know, as well as reducing the carbon footprint. As I go, I’m unsubscribing from loads of stuff – I’m trying to keep to the Buy Nothing principle in life, so emails showing me lovely organic children’s clothes are not very helpful. Also I get massive FOMO from all the galleries, museums and concerts I don’t have time to go to, so those mailing lists can go too. I’m going to try to tackle the archive too, and I’m not even going to admit to you all how big that is. But I don’t think I really need my work emails from 2012… really.

Here’s a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of your email – untested, might be totally made up, but I urge you to think about this issue and challenge yourselves to review your relationship with email, for environmental as well as mental health reasons.

Meanwhile, I wrote a fun thing about why zero waste doesn’t exist, which is going to be posted in another online magazine soon, so watch this space, will share the link soon.

Motherhood, consumption and guilt part 2 (do not read this if you may be offended by my rage…)

Right, here goes (this is a long one).

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.

What the BMJ position does is to further heap on the guilt and shame to mothers for all that’s wrong in our society, and the planet. It’s our fault that there’s a childhood obesity endemic, especially working mothers. If we go back to work early we’re neglecting our children and outsourcing their care to strangers, to their emotional detriment. If we stay at home, we’re setting a poor example and being bad feminists. We buy them too many plastic toys. We shouldn’t be having children anyway as the Earth is over-populated.

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

It’s driving me crazy

In all honesty, I don’t really like driving anymore. There was a period of time in my life when I did enjoy it, but that was before I moved to London. It was quite pleasant cruising around the Devon countryside in the sunshine in my little Fiesta, listening to music and being free to come and go as I liked, stopping by at the beach on the way home from work. But I lived in the middle of nowhere, with very little public transport infrastructure – I think there was a bus through the village twice a week – so I hadn’t really got much option but to drive, if I ever wanted to go anywhere at all. On the other hand, I find driving around London really stressful and difficult, and try to avoid it wherever possible.

We’ve had a bit of a nail-biting time this week, waiting to find out if the replacement of some broken bit of complicated and staggeringly expensive engine part in our car is going to be covered by the warranty – it is, thankfully. But it did get me thinking about driving again. We use our car very little – the last annual mileage calculation for our insurance renewal was 4000 miles. Of course it’s not always been like this – I probably did 30,000 miles a year when I lived in Devon, with an hour long commute, and various friends to visit in Cornwall and Wales, and family nearer to London. My husband used to work for an auto company, so had a discounted car purchase option and drove to work from our part of London into Essex. Now he cycles to work and I use the bus or my feet for most daily outings with the small one. So the 4000 miles per year is made up of a trip to the supermarket maybe once a week, and the odd weekend day trip or visit to family, and infrequent UK holidays.

I kind of thought that everyone thought like me, that it’s basically completely bonkers to drive short journeys in London, where the traffic is so awful, the roads are so hideous and the public transport infrastructure is so good. But I had dinner with a friend recently in central London who drove into town – Rachelle, you’re a nutter. And I was gobsmacked to see the car park in Greenwich park completely full a couple of weekends ago – just why would you do that, when you can get there by bus/DLR/train? Unless there are mobility reasons to use a car, I just find it baffling.

I read this spoof piece a couple of weeks ago about middle-class mums saving the environment by driving to Waitrose to buy loose cereal – all very funny, but far-fetched, right? Anyone on a mission to reduce their plastic waste would realise that driving for short, frequent and/or unnecessary journeys in incompatible with saving the planet? Then I saw a post on the Facebook page of my local “zero waste” shop of someone saying how they love the shop so much, they don’t mind the 25 minute drive… *facepalm*. It’s on about 19 different bus routes. Sure, you’d need a rucksack if you were stocking up on bulky stuff, and again I’m probably being ablist here, but I think a lot of people could manage it.

I don’t understand all the science, as always, but I understand that 15% of global emissions are caused by transportation, and driving plays a huge part in that. Not to mention the issues driving causes with regard to air pollution. And yet, we have this ridiculous, money draining diesel estate car in our drive which we hardly ever use…. Is it time to do something different? We’ve had this conversation multiple times (usually when something expensive is broken), and always decide that we need to keep the car for holidays, trips to family and big shops. But I am consciously trying to change my way of thinking about it, and not feeling entitled to drive everywhere. We visited a nursery school for the small one yesterday – and very lovely it was too. But it is quite far away – 45 minute walk or 20 minutes on the bus. It would probably be quicker to drive, but I’m refusing to entertain this as an option. I absolutely refuse to become a London mum who drops their kid(s) off to places by car out of convenience – we have to say NO to this way of life, when there’s a very reasonable alternative.

There’s some useful thoughts here about how to manage without a car and how to reduce the carbon footprint of your car. Some other stuff I’ve thought about:

  • You use less petrol if you’re carrying a lighter load, so if you’ve got a ton of stuff in your boot that you don’t need to be driving around, take it out (I used to leave my winter survival kit, including a spade and all sorts of boy scout gear, in the boot all year round – I did eventually thin it out over the summer months).
  • I’m wondering if online shopping is a greener option in terms of economies of scale of delivery driving, but I’m not sure it’s the best option for us right now, as we rely quite heavily on the cheapness of Aldi and they don’t deliver. In less leaner times, I would love to get delivery boxes of fruit and veg and maybe meat… but not right now.
  • Planning ahead and combining journeys is a good strategy – multiple stops in one trip is better than going out several times. Maybe the “25 minutes drive from the zero waste shop” lady was doing that… hope so. But, judge not lest ye be judged and all that.

It’s easy to preach about this stuff, isn’t it? I would have laughed at anyone who told me to reduce my driving when I lived in the middle of Dartmoor on my own. Hmmm. We all have our own circumstances and our own battles. One of these days, we might even buy a hybrid or an electric. (But what’s the environmental impact of electric cars? Fossil fuel for the electricity? Rare minerals being mined to make the batteries? Oh my goodness it’s all so difficult…)

On a more positive note, and a final bit of exciting, cliff-hanger news – The Everyday Radical is going to be on TV on Tuesday! Eeeep. More tomorrow.

#SaturdaySwitch – lists, and also some amazing bloggers

Aaaaaah. Stationery. Mmmmmmm. My heart rate increases a little bit when I go into a branch of Paperchase. My pupils dilate when I walk down the stationery aisle in Sainsbury’s. I want it ALL. All the notebooks, all the nice brightly-coloured rollerball pens. Want, want, want. All, all, all. Covet, covet, covet.

And I love lists. I love crossing jobs off to do lists. I love having an amazingly complete and perfect and colour-coded to do list of all the things I have to do, ever. I love categorising lists. I’ve also been known to have a list of all the lists (to be fair, I was turning my life upside down and moving to London with no job and nowhere to live, so I think you can forgive me a few lists in pink pen to give me an illusion of control).

But paper is of course made of trees. And trees are amazing and my instinctive feeling is that it’s pretty obviously better not to chop them down. There is of course a circular argument that many trees are grown specifically to make paper, so if there was less demand for paper then those trees would not exist, and their carbon absorption benefit would be lost. But equally, even sustainable growth of trees for paper-marking has an environmental impact. Of course paper can be recycled, and 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared to making it from raw materials. But of course, as always, it’s complicated, and there is a footprint to the recycling process. So the first steps, again as always, are to reduce and reuse.

So I’m working on the Buy Nothing project this week (more on this soon – it’s going to save the world, I tell you). There’s a ton of stuff to do, and my co-creator has shared the Wunderlist app with me – so I’m giving up my personal paper-based to do list… Can I also give up my shopping list, weekly meal plan and other random ramblings that I keep in my nice green notepad? We shall see…

Meanwhile, the totally incredible Gemma Bray at The Organised Mum has just released an app of her awesome system of organising household jobs. So if you’re into this sort of thing – and following her plan has been a sanity saver for me – then do check it out. It will save you the need to write any housework lists, ever again.

And just because I love to plug other awesome bloggers who’ve had a really positive impact on my life, and because I have an enormous girl crush on her, I want to tell you that Jack Monroe has just released a new book of vegan recipes, for pre-order to arrive on Boxing Day. Perfect for the post Christmas health kick and/or Veganuary. We’ll chat about the concept of Veganish again some time…

How green are you, anyway?

A friend of mine (the great deodorant co-experimenter) told me about this WWF personal carbon footprint calculator, so I thought I would have a go at it and share my thoughts with you.

The methodology section is a bit confusing, but essentially it measures your personal footprint in tonnes of CO2 equivalent carbon emissions. This is based on questions on four categories: Food – diet, food waste and buying habits, Home – energy type and usage in the house and presence of energy-saving measures, Travel – personal and public transport usage for leisure and work, and flights, and Stuff – purchase of consumable items.

It then gives you a percentage score – 100% is the average required for every citizen to meet the UK’s 2020 carbon emissions target. Less than 100%, you’re doing well. More than 100%, you’re contributing more than your fair share and could/should do more.

The “target” is the 2008 Climate Act’s goal to reduce emissions by 80% from the 1990 total by 2050 – to remain on track, we have to be 35% of the way there by 2020. More info here.

So I ran the questionnaire and came out initially with 98%. All good. Then I realised I had probably filled out the question about car travel wrong. We hardly ever use the car – literally one trip to the shops every 7-10 days or so, maybe a less than 50 mile trip once a month and longer trip every few months. So I initially answered the first car question saying “I walk/cycle/use public transport for all journeys”. When I went back and redid it, and answered the questions about the type of car we have (terrible huge diesel estate), even saying that I use it less than 2 hours per week made the answer came back at 112%… 11.2 tonnes. Still less than the UK average of 13.56 tonnes, but above target. Hmm…

Just as an experiment, to see how the weighting works, I ran it again with all the same answers but changed the food answer to “vegan”, and it came out at 109%. So the impact of car use seems to have a very high weighting. It would be really interesting to re-run it a few times playing with the other categories like recycling, flights taken etc. and see how that impacts the score.

The tips the calculator gives me are as follows:

Travel:

  • Cycle more – no, not going to. People would die. Probably me.
  • Use public transport more – I do this for everything except supermarket and visiting family, not sure how we can reduce this as I’m not really up for long train journeys with a toddler.
  • Drive smarter – remove excess weight to maximise petrol efficiency. Hmmm… 10 day camping trip with roof box coming up. Also, it tells me that “having the correct air pressure in your tyres results in better petrol mileage, better handling of the car, cheaper maintenance costs and a smaller environmental impact. This simple step can make a big difference.” This is my husband’s department (sorry, feminists), and I’m pretty sure he’s on it. And finally, my favourite: by slowing your travel speed by 10km/h, you could improve your car’s fuel consumption by 25%. Dear husband, please read this! (Cause of a few tiffs, this one)

Stuff tips – buy one expensive thing rather than lots of fast fashion, buy second hand. On it – see impending eBay post and my thoughts about fast fashion.

Food – eat in season, less meat and dairy.

Home – this was my highest score: switch energy supplier to a renewable energy company, switch to energy efficient bulbs (already doing this) and “embrace new technology” – this seems to be something about using apps to monitor energy use, or maybe installing a smart meter? More research required.

There’s a couple of non-negotiables in here which I’m sure have an impact (e.g. cat food spend, and we would really be sad if we cut down on our takeaways and the odd restaurant date night), but I re-ran it with the following changes:

No flights (won’t be flying anywhere next year anyway), changed meat from “some meals” to rarely, changed food to “a lot locally sourced” rather than just some, 100% renewable energy tariff, house temperature changed from “warm” to “cool” (grrrr….), no new household items (we bought new laptops last year with wedding present money, no plans to make anymore big purchases). I kept clothing spend at £0-£50 rather than zero, as I do have to buy the odd thing new despite my best efforts.

Drumroll please….. this takes me down to 11.4 tonnes, which is 93%. And this is with what I consider to be quite modest changes really, that we are heading towards anyway. More radical stuff could take it lower, and the methodology section says we should be aiming for 1.05 tonnes each by 2050. The global average is 5.28 tonnes and that feels like a good long-term aim.

Interesting stuff. I would love to hear what yours comes out as and whether it triggers any thoughts towards lifestyle changes.

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.