Living more sustainably and more ethically has become increasingly important to me over the past six months while I’ve been absent from this blog. So, I thought I’d stop by and share a few of the small changes I’ve been making to our daily lives. First, here’s a little of what’s been going on in my head…
Climate change and the plight of our planet is not a new story by any means, but it seems that in recent months the world is finally taking notice. I know I certainly have and I have felt so much embarrassment and shame over how we, as a society, have been conducting our wasteful lives over the last few decades. I cringe at how I used to gloat about the bargain clothing I’d picked up for next to nothing, or how I didn’t give a second thought to purchasing yet another bottle of mineral water or a hot drink in a single use cup.
When you watch or read about the effects us humans have had on our planet, I honestly don’t know how anyone could not feel guilt. We have completely disrespected our beautiful environment and the other beings we share it with.
One of the toughest things for people to get their heads around, I think, is that in many ways, we almost need to regress in terms of ‘convenient living'. For so long, we’ve wanted everything to be easy, quick, convenient - and that is what retailers and manufacturers have catered to - we want our lives to be made ever easier. In many cases, it’s this need for convenience which is causing the problem. For one, it has exasperated the overuse of plastic packaging - pre-prepared vegetables in plastic for example, rather than just buying a few loose carrots and chopping them by hand. Clothing - we’ve had the convenience of buying something new that’s super cheap, rather than take the time to mend an existing item. Our mindset has been: ‘it’s so cheap, it doesn’t matter if I throw it in the bin after a few wears’. But, when you discover that 235 million items of clothing went into landfill last year - and that is in the UK alone - it really makes you stop and think.
I’m not going to bleat on about all the issues that urgently need addressing or the facts and figures associated with the problem, as I’ll assume you are already aware, or if you are not, then there are lots of resources out there to find out (a few which I’ve mentioned here). Instead, I thought I’d share a few of the changes I have made - they are nothing drastic -just small, easy steps towards trying to make a difference. I’ve found it best to do it one step at a time and tackle things as you go along rather than trying to change everything in one fell swoop.
Some people may think that it’s not individuals that need to change, it’s governments and big businesses, and yes, they definitely need to tackle some of the big issues with urgency. But, there is so much we can do individually that can make a difference.
There are two thoughts that constantly play on my mind and that help to spur me on:
1/ The idea that my daughter could turn round in 20 years time and say ‘why didn’t you do anything mum?’ How could I explain to her that I could have lived differently to reduce my impact on the environment but I choose not to. It’s not fair on her and it’s not fair on our future generations as a whole for us to not do anything.
2/ I saw a placard that a young person was holding at a climate change protest that said: ‘The biggest threat to our planet is assuming someone else will save it.’ This hit home, as it’s easy to think that we’ll leave this enormous task to the powers that be, but small changes collectively can make a big impact, so we can’t assume that we are not part of the problem individually and that we can’t influence the people in power to do something too.
MY 8 SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
1. I’ve reduced my consumption of meat. I would like to say I have went full vegetarian, but at the moment I am still eating chicken and fish but avoiding all other meat. This has probably been the biggest change to my lifestyle, although so far I haven’t found it that difficult. After watching Cowspiracy, I was convinced I needed to cut out beef, and then one of the comments made in David Attenborough’s Climate Change documentary stuck with me which was that ‘one of the most impactful things we can do in the fight against climate change is to cut down on beef and lamb.’ I know there are many issues with eating chicken and fish also, but you know, baby steps, and I am trying to be mindful of which chicken and fish we buy.
2. I’ve swapped to oat/coconut milk. I was finding large cartons of milk in our fridge problematic for a few reasons - the single use plastic and how many we’d get through a week, as well as the production cycle for cows milk. Initially, we switched to having our milk delivered in glass bottles which felt great to be cutting out the plastic, but then we decided to give some of the alternative milks a try and found it totally fine. Annoyingly, you can’t yet have these milks delivered in glass bottles, but at least they are in cartons rather than plastic bottles.
3. Switching to eco-friendly cleaning products. Ever since becoming a mother, I’ve felt uneasy about having bottles of toxic solutions in our cupboards. It just feels wrong to be actively putting toxins into our air and on our surfaces and clothes. So, I am slowly phasing out any we still have and replacing them with alternatives. I’ve been using brands like Kinn Living - whose products are lovely, although a little pricey and still in plastic bottles. I’ve recently bought an Eco Egg for our laundry which is amazing - it does 720 washes and cuts out the need for detergents and in turn the plastic bottles. I’d also love to try making some of my own cleaning products when time allows.
4. Reducing my clothing purchases. The True Cost was one of the first documentaries I watched about anything to do with the environment. The fashion issue feels like it is possibly one of the most complicated - there are so many facets to it - from who is making your garments - are they being paid fairly? What are their working conditions? - to the materials your clothes are made from to the fact that we are just buying too much and allowing it to end up in landfill. If budget wasn’t a concern, then opting to buy only from ethical brands when you really need something new, but as this isn’t always possible, I think the goal is to simply buy less and buy more mindfully. I ask myself a lot more questions before I commit to a purchase these days (often ending in me not bothering!) I’m being mindful of the fact that I don’t need something new for every occasion, and if I do want to wear something ‘new’, I’ll consider asking a friend if I can borrow something, or I will check out second hand options before going down the ‘brand new’ route.
5. Decorating my home with plants. The homewares market can be just as damaging as the fashion industry as we are constantly being told to ‘update our homes’ and ‘get the latest trends’, so we need to stop and think a little about what we are adding to our homes also. I’ve become a huge plant geek over the past few years so I’ve found that rather than buying objects to decorate our home, I’ve been turning to plants more and more. When I do buy things for the home, I am again much more thoughtful about whether it’s needed, and mainly opting for small, independent brands where possible.
6. Switching out bathroom products. As well as the kitchen, the bathroom is big producer of single use plastic, so we’ve been trying to cut back here. We switched our toilet roll to Who Gives a Crap (a toilet roll delivery service), we changed most of our hand soaps to bars instead of pump bottles and I’ve also stopped using cotton wool pads for removing my make up. I bought one of these muslin cloths and this cleansing butter which is all I need for taking my make up off, reducing the need for loads of plastic bottles of cleanser, toner etc. I’ve also switched to a reusable tampon applicator & organic tampons by Dame. I tried a shampoo bar a while ago and didn’t get on with it at all, but I’ve just bought a Lush one which I’ve heard are good, so hopefully that will suit better. We also switched Ruby’s toothbrush to a bamboo one. Hubby and I use electric ones, but we’ve had them for years and probably only change the heads every 6 months or so.
7. Reducing plastic toys. I suddenly became very aware of how much plastic is used in kids toys and the short life span that most toys have in our lives. I feel like it’s something that should definitely be addressed more widely. It is a constant battle, but I am slowly trying to teach Ruby about plastic pollution and why it’s best for us not to buy these items. Recently, she really wanted to go to McDonalds, and while we do go now and again, I had to sit her down and explain why we couldn’t go so often as I know her main incentive is the happy meal toy. I have banned magazines which have plastic toys stuck on the front and mostly I buy her Dot magazine from time to time, which she loves. Another great independent magazine we’ve bought is Bravery - it’s from the US and pricey, so she usually gets it as part of a birthday or Christmas gift. It focuses on an inspirational ‘brave’ woman in each issue so has a great message. It is tough as she will be given plastic toys as gifts, but I have decided for her birthday in a few weeks I will request that people don’t buy her plastic toys. I’m also putting together plastic-free party bags for her friends.
8. Thoughtful food shopping. I’ve found this to be one of the hardest tasks. Sadly our village doesn’t have a regular food market and not much in the way of independent food stores, so we are a little bit restricted to the major supermarkets. I get so frustrated by the fact that so much of the food in packaged in plastic - and like was highlighted in the recent TV show by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Anita Rani - a lot of the loose fruit and veg is more expensive than if you buy it packaged! ridiculous! I have started using the only greengrocers in our village and buying it loose - ironically the staff in there always automatically try to give me a plastic bag rather than trying to promote no plastic themselves! Generally, I am simply trying to be more mindful when shopping and opting for the options with least packaging where possible, and live in the hope that someone might open a zero-waste food shop near me soon!
I’d love to hear what small steps you’ve made and if you are finding it hard or easy to make the changes? We can’t ignore this problem anymore, even the high temperatures this week - particularly in France and Spain - surely highlight that things aren’t right. It’s SO much easier than ever to start making small changes, so let’s do what we can, while we still can!