Saturday, 28 September 2013

Eco Shopping ... not as ugly as you think

I've been putting together a green Christmas gift guide for a magazine, merging two of my favourite pastimes - writing and shopping for random things I don't need.

During my research (can you call shopping online research?), I discovered ethical shopping has come a long way. Admittedly, there are still some hideous homemade clothes (think About A Boy-style knitwear) and some pretty scary personal hygiene products (cloth toilet paper - really?) But on the whole, it no longer seems like a worthy compromise to buy green.

So, I was going to write a post about my favourite green goods, but as that's what I'm being paid to do elsewhere, I might get sacked. Instead, I've made a list of 5 everyday household things that you could easily swap for a more ethical version (kind of like that annoying switch & save page at the end of an Ocado shop).

Switch & Save the planet! (well, a bit)

1. Straws 
Swap plastic straws for paper.
They're single use, which is a complete waste. But they're biodegradable. And pretty. (eBay is the cheapest place to buy them in the UK).

2. Sandwich Bags
Swap plastic sandwich bags or cling film for fabric ones.
Wipeable, washable and much better than plastic. And pretty.

3. Water Filters
Swap your normal water filters for Bamboo Charcoal Water Filters
They look scary - and like they might kill you - but they aren't, and they won't. And they work.
4. Gift Wrap
Swap wrapping paper for fabric.
Make your own or buy it pre-made from shops such as Happywrap. Pre-made is expensive but not if you just use it internally, for family presents , and nick it back afterwards.

5. Takeaway coffee cups
Swap disposable coffee cups for these Silicone BYO Cups
If you're organised and not afraid to be judged by strangers, take your own cup along when you buy a coffee (it's becoming more common, so the baristas won't think you're mental). Apparently after you use it 8 times it pays for itself environmentally-speaking.

That's it! So do all five or pick just one. It won't make a huge difference but it's better than nothing (copyrighting that slogan in case Friends of the Earth tries to steal it).

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Drugs Don't Work

I’m sitting on an aeroplane armrest, 14 hours into a 22 hour flight with a 2 year old and 4 year old. One is sleeping, the other is covering the sleeping man next to us with stickers (I know I should stop him. Instead I’ve chosen to pretend to be asleep when the man wakes up).

I'm doing this flight drug-free. Last time I flew long haul with both children on my own, I went against all my previous principles and gave them a dose of antihistamine in an effort to make them sleep. I felt guilty and it didn’t work anyway. I just had sticky-medicine-covered children screaming and running around the plane instead of clean ones. It was bad. I locked myself in the aeroplane loos and cried before we had even reached Singapore.

I fly to Australia about once a year. In carbon terms, I'm basically the equivalent of a hummer-driving American. My carbon footprint is about 5.5 thousand tonnes a year (according to this little gadget). The UK average is about 4.5 thousand tonnes a year. That one little flight to Australia accounts for about half of my annual carbon emissions.

I used to occasionally tick that little 'offset my carbon' button when booking my flights, in a nod to my previous ethical stance. But I don't even do that anymore. I realised carbon offsetting is basically a way for fat lazy countries to avoid doing anything's like paying someone else to diet so you can stuff your face with cake. And, according to lots of environmental experts, carbon offsetting doesn’t work anyway.

The government has tried all sorts of ways to gently discourage people from flying, but who wants to give up an exotic holiday to save the stupid old planet? No-one apparently. I say forget carbon offsetting, forget increasing airline taxes. Having a child has to be the most effective way to discourage a person from flying. Give everyone a child or two at the gate and you'll have people queuing to go camping in Blackpool instead of jetting off to a Greek island.

Unfortunately, if I want to see my family, I have to carry on flying. So I decided the best way to make a small attempt to offset my flight is by reducing carbon emissions in other areas of my life. There are lots of effective ways to do it, many of which involve ceasing bad habits or actively doing things. But if you can’t be bothered with all that, there are some small ways to reduce carbon emissions that barely even require you to move from the sofa. Here goes….

1. Buy less food. And make it organic.
We throw away more food from our homes than packaging every year – about £50 worth every month. It's a huge waste of resources. So, try to buy less food and cook less than you think you need to. If we all stop throwing away food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road. With the money you’re saving, you could pay the little bit extra for organic whenever you can.

2. Ditch plastic water bottles

UK tap water is among the safest in the world, but we each drink around 35 litres of bottled water a year. It’s bonkers. The bottled water market is unsustainable. It has 30 times the carbon footprint of tap water and costs hundreds of times more. Blind taste tests have shown most people can’t even tell the difference. So, buy a reusable bottle and fill it with tap water instead. There are lots of great ones on the market - brands such as Onya, Klean Kanteen, Sigg, and One Green Bottle do some fun designs for kids too.

3. Turn your heating down a teeny weeny bit (or vice versa for air con)
Ideally, we would all wrap up warm and turn our heating right down but, realistically, who wants wear a coat indoors? ‘Just run around and flap your arms’ is my husband’s sage advice when I try to turn the heating on in October, but you don’t have to go quite that far. Turning your thermostat down by just 1°C could save around £55 and 230kg carbon emissions every year. While you’re at it, check the temperature of your hot water and turn it down to 60°C (which is still hot enough to kill any harmful bacteria).

4. Choose green energy
When you're next choosing an electricity supplier, go with one that supports renewable energy sources, such as wind power and biomass.

5. Stop using wrapping paper
Wrappng paper is pointless. It really is. In just one year in the UK, we collectively use enough wrapping paper to reach the moon. Much of the dyed, glossy paper can’t be recycled, and even the paper that can be recycled is a waste of natural resources. Using something once and throwing it away makes no sense. So, wrap your gifts in fabric or in a piece of your children’s artwork. It’s free and is a great way to rid your house of hundreds of kiddy paintings without the guilt of putting them in the bin.

5. Wash colder
Switching your washing machine from 40° to 30° uses around 40% less electricity. Tumble-drying is a huge waste of energy, but if you are going to use one make your clothes aren’t soaking wet first by using a fast spin cycle. Also, cleaning out the lint filter speeds up drying times (who knew?).

So there you go...a few small adjustments to help you justify those completely unjustifiable long haul flights. If you’re feeling inspired and want to do things that will require a bit more effort, the Carbon Fund gives lots of advice here…


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

I Hate Bees...but do this anyway

I'm not a fan of bees. Especially the massive fat ones that get stuck in my conservatory, buzzing and smacking their furry heads (do they have heads?), until my children  coax me to catch them in our giant spider catcher device and set them free. But they're useful little creatures, and apparently we're killing them all off.

I don't really like petitions much either, but the Friends of the Earth Bee Cause is actually working. So take a second, sign it and you'll have helped to save an entire species without even getting off your iPad.

Bees are scary but I'll save them anyway