In July, as a first step to a green (er) life, I decided to take part in #plasticfreejuly – ie not buy anything wrapped in plastic, or made of plastic.
I failed on day one. Because it is bloody hard to be plastic free. I know it is not impossible because others, such as Lindsay at Treading My Own Path do it, but flip me I don’t know how they do. My first fail occurred because the organic veg in Aldi is wrapped in plastic. Of course I could go to a an old fashioned green grocers and buy my veg loose. If we still had an old fashioned green grocer in my neighbourhood. We don’t.
This abject failure to stop bringing plastic in the home made me start to think about what else I could do to be more green. After all, what I do to today impacts on how life will be in the future, not so much for me, but for my children, your children and their children.
First minimalism and now going green
It seemed a logical step, after downsizing, decluttering and embracing a more minimalist life. This is an ongoing journey. I still have a way to go. Much of my stuff is still in boxes. I haven’t seen some things for two years now. As I unpack, I keep a bag for donations. As Sleeve Notes and I cleared the bedrooms for the flooring to be laid we decided not to have any wardrobes in the house and no furniture except a bed in our room. We have got rid of so many clothes and possessions, we don’t need so much storage. And I know, that as soon as you create storage, you fill it.
This does mean that we are in limbo – there is stuff in boxes – and nowhere to put it. And this makes the choices of what to keep simpler. If we love it, will use it we will find space. If not, we won’t.
There is no rush. We can take time. The winter months are a good time to sift through photos. Art can be put on the walls once they have been painted. And we will continue to off load stuff we no longer love nor need.
Going Green in the home
As I planned the house renovations I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I could, within the budget I had. The flooring is made of sustainable Bamboo. I have replace radiators with underfloor heating as it more efficient and therefore uses less gas. Which will cut my bills. The extension is very well insulated. The glazing brings in more light and heat, saving more energy. We have no bath, only a shower. We had a water meter installed. Nothing like a water meter to make you think twice about leaving the tap running when brushing teeth.
Our utilities provider has installed a Smart Meter. I had to put it in the cupboard to stop me checking every 5 minutes how much gas or electric I am using. For the first time in 25 years I have a tumble dryer and now I am afraid to use it. It makes me think about turning off lights, filling the dishwasher completely before turning it on and washing clothes less frequently.
I have stopped buying paper towels. I used them all the time from mopping up spills, instead of napkins, to chop veg up on so I could scoop it all into the compost without making a mess. What a waste of paper. Instead I have a dedicated absorbent cloth for spills, peelings go straight to the compost from the chopping board and eventually I will buy some cloth napkins.
I changed my loo roll and now buy Who Gives a Crap toilet roll. Delivered in cardboard, wrapped in paper. It is as ethical as loo roll can be, I reckon.
48 rolls delivered to my door, I won’t be driving to the shops to buy in bulk. They look so pretty and are fun. And in one swoop I have reduced the use of plastic. Coral 1 Plastic 0.
Reducing the chemicals
Stern warning on my bathroom fittings tell me to avoid using harsh chemicals on them. I will do so. Currently I wipe them down daily with water. That is all. Most of us have an undersink cupboard of cleaning liquids, almost all in plastic bottles.
And after we have emptied all these chemicals into the environment, polluting rivers and contaminating the water supply, we put the plastic bottles in recycling. I personally don’t know what happens to my recycling. I put it in the appropriate bin and assume the council are doing the right thing. I certainly felt smug that my recycle bin was fuller than the waste bin. Smug about all those plastic containers I have used. Water bottles when I have a tap. The empty milk cartons when I could have milk in glass containers. Like we all used to. That were collected and re used. Not recycled.
I am addressing this by as I use up the chemical laden cleaners I am replacing them with ones that are more ecological. the most obvious of these in the uk is Ecover. I am also investigating using Splosh, who send returnable refills in the post. It still uses plastic containers, but reduces its use and reuses the containers. No more recycling. And that is a good thing. And sometimes I just use water and a microfibre cloth to clean. Nothing else. No chemicals, no sprays no soap. Yup, there is downside to microfibre…. it really isn’t easy being green. For now they are a better alternative to chemicals in my house.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Who doesn’t feel smug about recycling? We are so proud that we rinse out our plastic lined cans and cartons. When I was a child, pop came in glass bottles that we took back to the outdoor (an off licence) to get our deposit back. Indeed in Greece in 1979 I fed myself on the proceeds of collecting glass bottles that others left on the beach. Water came out of the tap. Now, from pop to water, it is all in plastic bottles. Many are put in the recycling. Many more aren’t. What we really need to think about is that the aim is to reduce, or reuse before recycle.
And we don’t. Because we can recycle, we do. Of course that is better that putting it in the trash, and much better that throwing your plastic bottle out of the car window or leaving it in the gutter. But not better than not buying water and milk in plastic bottles.
I now have glass bottles that I refill from the tap. I do have a filter on my tap water as the water here is very hard. My fridge is alway full of filtered cold water. I am investigating milk deliveries, in glass bottles, to my door.
I have always used plastic bin liners. Back in the day when we got free plastic carrier bags I used them. Now we don’t. So I buy bin liners. That is not a good thing. I looked for alternatives. I asked people. Some suggested lining the bin with news paper. I don’t have newspapers.
I now reuse packaging. I got new saucepans and they come wrapped in plastic bags, so this week they line my bin. Food that came in paper bags line the recycle bin. In future I may use the big strong supermarket shopping bags and wash them out.
I have read about people who will take food containers to shops. Could I would I do that? I am not sure I could. Would my local shops do this? Maybe that is an experiment for the future.
We need more stores offering loose food, not just fruit and veg, but that would be a start. Because it is not just the supermarkets who sell everything pre packed, smaller stores do too. I suppose the answer is to use a local market. If I had one that I could walk to.
Plastic can damage your health
And if the environmental issue isn’t enough to make your think twice about using plastic, what about the health issues? Chemicals from plastic leach into your food. Again smug me has recently dumped all her nasty plastic and replaced it with a brand that is BPA and Phthalate free. I am not sure I have gone far enough, because it may have other chemicals lurking. Going forward I am saving all my jars and using them to store what I would normally use plastic containers for. I won’t be using plastic containers in the microwave. A dish covered with a plate will suffice.
Take out or dine in? The healthiest option
I like a curry. I live in Birmingham and it is not hard to find a good curry in these parts. And I like to flop in front of the TV with a curry. It is one of the most popular take out dinners. But. If I order take out it comes in plastic containers. That can leak harmful chemicals into my food. What to do? Two options: 1 go out to eat, make it a special occasion. The cost is the same. You concentrate on the food and the company and not the telly. 2 cook the curry at home. This saves money, if not time and requires some skill. But hey, it is still better that those piles of plastic containers, that never biodegrade, leaching into your food.
Alternative bathroom products avoiding chemicals and plastic
Every morning I use shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, all packaged in plastic. I use a plastic shower puff. 4 plastic things to just have a shower. Then I brush my teeth. I have already ditched my plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. But toothpaste comes in plastic tubes. What to do?
Lucy who blogs as Lulastic and the Hippyshake (brilliant blog name) has been poo free for five years. That is SHAMPOO free. Lindsay at Treading My Own Path also ditched the shampoo. Bicarb, oat flour, white vinegar or cider vinegar replace the shampoo and conditioner. I have not tried it myself. I may start with using the solid bars from Lush and see how I get on. Toothpaste can also be made with bicarb and coconut oil and some even add turmeric to the mix. In the meantime I am using Aloe Vera toothpaste from a well known health food shop. But it comes in a plastic tube.
The shower puffs in addition being made of plastic also harbour bacteria. So I am ditching mine and going back to the good old-fashioned flannel. With a bar of soap. I bought hand-made soap in Melbourne, so will take the shampoo bar with me when I go on holiday, as I am travelling carry on solid shampoo makes so much sense, and it will double as body soap too.
Reducing food waste
I hate food waste, yet I am guilty of it. I am. I get good intentions of eating more salad, that goes slimy. It is often cheaper per kg to buy in bulk. So 5kg of potatoes is bought and then they go green and sprout. And it is not just food waste, it is also a waste of money.
I watch people mindlessly shop, with no list. Buying stuff because it is on offer. Filling their trolleys and I wonder how much of it will be thrown away.
So what can I do?
I can buy from The Real Junk Food Project, many of them them operate a ‘sharehouse’. Here, food that would otherwise gone to landfill is sold on a Pay As You Feel basis.
The is a local enterprise that sells veggie boxes. There are a couple locally. I need to investigate further.
I could make household cleaners and cosmetics using natural products. I am certainly going to experiment with this going forward. Newspaper and vinegar is an excellent window cleaner. Coconut oil is an all round moisturiser for face body and hands.
Find a milk delivery service that uses bottles.
What have I done?
I have started to use an online food delivery service, that provided menus and ingredients to make a main meal for 5 days a week. I just need to work out whether it is green and ethical and is it worth it? I think I have spent less money on food this week and have definitely had zero food waste. I have also not had to shop every day so I have saved time. Not going food shopping is high on my list of priorities. I will blog about my experiences with this service in the future.
I bought Who Gives a Crap loo roll.
I don’t send greeting cards.
I don’t wrap gifts (I give very few physical presents).
I am using a chemical free deodorant. I love it.
Government must step in and legislate
They have to if there is to be real change. I am not advocating a nanny state but without legislation the big companies will not change.
There was public outrage about losing our free plastic bags. Now, almost everyone has their own shopping bags. I already did and certainly did not complain about this legislation.
All supermarkets should offer free refills for a range of cleaning materials, or a bottle exchange scheme. Only last week I was in a small shop that sold infused oils and vinegar – the first bottle was around £4.00 but you could bring it back and refill it for around half the price.
Bring back the deposits on pop and beer bottles.
Bring back pop being bottled in glass.
Ban BPA’s in plastic.
Ban plastic straws.
Stop fruit and veg being wrapped in plastic.
What would you add to these lists?