If 2018 was the year we ‘woke up’ to the true extent of the threats facing our planet and what else we could do to help make a difference (ultimately leading to the creation of Plastic Free Home), then 2019 was undoubtedly the year of progress on that journey. Here we look back on the everyday changes that we’ve made in the past few years, alongside some others that we haven’t (and why)…
It’s perhaps fairly obvious but making changes, and sticking with them, requires a degree of determination and self-discipline. You arguably need to ‘train your brain’ to think differently, so that doing things ‘the right way’ and living more sustainably becomes second nature and your new ‘norm’. A willingness to accept that you might have to give up or enjoys less of certain past favourites, spend a little more on an alternative option and shop around for longer or walk a little further to find one, are some of the differences to adapt to. One of our proudest moments last year came in a local bookshop when our eldest child ruled out a particular book as a present for a friend, saying: “We shouldn’t buy this one because it’s wrapped in plastic. Or that one because it has glitter all over the cover. But this one is good and I like it and have it at home.” Even better, the book he’d picked out was ‘A Planet Full of Plastic’, a lovely children’s read if you haven’t come across it.
We have ‘only’ taken two return flights in the past six years, the first occasion being a close friend’s wedding and the other to mark a very special birthday. In that period of time, the average UK flyer will have spent 41 hours in the air according to data published by a leading travel company, with our total flight time was significantly below half that figure.
In 2018 Britons made up 1 in 12 of all international travellers, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Going forward we plan to strictly limit our flying; in 2020 we won’t be boarding a plane and we have no current plans to in the foreseeable future. We have never taken a UK domestic flight and are committed to maintaining that.
Around three years ago we swapped our slow moving rush hour commute by car (which had replaced a previous bus journey following a home move), with a short train journey via a drop off as part of the existing school run. In that time we’ve saved over 5,000 miles and around 2.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Speaking of cars, we’ve been looking seriously at switching to an electric or hybrid vehicle. Something that we will definitely do at some point in the future. At the moment though, we maintain several concerns over both the practicalities and the environmental credentials involved.
Around a year ago we switched to renewable energy supplier Bulb. It was quick, easy and it has also saved us money. And, crucially, the average UK property will save 3.5 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere by moving to a greener energy supplier according to Bulb. If you fancy switching too, this link www.bulb.me/davidl4377 will earn you a £50 welcome credit, with no switching fees, and we’ll also donate £20 to the Woodland Trust if you let us know when you’ve done so.
And, however it’s produced, use less energy. At home our usage is consistently rated as low given our property and family size. Monitor and understand how you consume energy and identify ways to further reduce your usage. Don’t leave devices plugged in, turn the lights off etc. You may also want to look at insulating your home if it’s an older property. This can result in significant environmental and financial savings.
Our water usage is also far lower than the average household and family of our size. We are careful to take fewer baths and shorter showers, to use the dishwasher (overall friendlier than hand washing) instead of hand washing, to ensure that we press the smaller flush button (which uses around 50% less water) on the toilet, to run the taps less, that we use full washing machine loads and to water the garden using a can rather than a hose whenever possible. Using leftover drinking water to water indoor and outdoor plants is another positive step. We don’t have an obvious spot for a water butt but we hope to resolve that one day.
Start the day as you mean to go on! We have made changes including switching to plastic free and recyclable safety razors (Naked Necessities), zero waste soap bars (Friendly Soap and Gower Lavender), refillable shampoo and conditioner (Sesi and Faith in Nature as we didn’t get on with bars), Bamboo toothbrushes (various), toilet rolls (Cheeky Panda) and loo brushes (various), eco deodorants (Fit Pit and Earth Conscious) and eradicating unnecessary items like cleansing wipes, cotton pads and buds. There are no big brand perfumes or aftershaves here either.
We have struggled to find an alternative to contact lenses and indeed lens solution but do routinely recycle both. Medicines are also a challenge. We have also found more environmentally friendly toothpaste alternatives hard to swallow but our quest to find one that works for us continues. A Mooncup may be on the agenda too…
Washing and cleaning
We have done away with the many branded (and often unnecessary) cleaning products of the past. This includes air fresheners, toilet rim blocks and cleaners. When it comes to washing clothes, we simply use an Ecoegg, which has been refilled multiple times already. For the dishes, we use Ecoleaf dishwasher tablets and refill our washing up liquid locally (Bio-D). We’ve also replaced plastic cloths, sponges and brushes with eco alternatives (Eco Coconut and Loofco). And for any other cleaning needs we’ll be using the brilliant and multipurpose Koh. If that doesn’t do the trick, we’ll be turning to homemade solutions. For example a mix of 50% water and 50% white vinegar is great for cleaning everything from bathrooms to windows and mirrors.
We’ve close to halved our weekly supermarket shop by voting with our feet. All of our fruit and veg (we buy a lot!) now comes from a local independent greengrocer. Yes, this costs more but the produce is fresher and far tastier and it’s an enjoyable experience. We’ve started growing a small amount ourselves too, having the most joy with delicious potatoes. We’re also lucky to have a local bakery, which we use as much as possible. And our milk (again, we go through a fair amount) is delivered by the milkman. We’re a 50% vegetarian, 50% flexitarian family so we don’t buy an enormous amount of meat. Only chicken really. And we’ve never eaten seafood. This year, our aim is to return to using the local butchers when needed. Other changes range from switching to leaf tea (from the UK Loose Leaf Tea Company, based in Wales) to developing an addiction to Two Farmers crisps (based in Herefordshire). When buying from a supermarket, we always aim for the greenest and least packaged options.
Clothes and shoes
If you knew us well, you’d know that we’re far from fasionistas. The average item of clothing in our wardrobe is probably over ten years old. And more than one pair of shoes has fallen apart when walking along due to age! You can save a small fortune, as well as the planet, by buying fewer clothes. And indeed washing them a little less often…
We’re quite low tech at home and only replace things when they die. We don’t have a smart TV, our stereo is over 20 years old and has an in-built tape deck, our Sky box is around a decade old and our PC was bought second hand from work for £50. Do you really need a device to tell you what the weather is like (that’s what windows are for!) or that allows you to order replacement loo roll with one click?
We don’t use any chemicals or non organic materials in the garden. We’ve added half a dozen bird houses and a bird table, along with a variety of insect hotels/habitats. We’ve predominantly planted pollinator friendly perennials and recently added a wildflower area, and we’re lucky to have some beautiful trees including an ancient Oak. We’ve spotted visitors including owls, badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, squirrels, field mice and an array of birds.
We haven’t gone down the more extreme route of banning or giving away plastic toys but we regularly talk about environmental issues with our children, something they also learn about at school, and we have decided to significantly reduce the number of toys (especially plastic ones) that we buy. Whenever we are buying gifts for other children, we aim to avoid anything plastic or environmentally unfriendly. Books, puzzles and wooden toys work well. Hosting a children’s birthday party last autumn was also a fun challenge! We hired reusable tableware, avoided balloons and decorations and gave out books wrapped in recyclable paper in place of party bags.
We have a reusable Christmas tree, bought five years ago, that we expect will be with us for many Christmases to come. If we were starting from scratch, we would hire a real tree locally but we don’t plan to waste tree we already have. This year, all presents were wrapped in recyclable paper using biodegradable paper tape. We opted for recyclable and plastic free crackers and have refillable advent calendars and sacks that again will be with us for a very long time.
The culmination of all of these changes is most evident on rubbish night each week. Whereas a few years ago we might have had two – three sacks of rubbish plus two kerbside bins of recycling, we now typically have less than one of each. We have three compost bins in the garden and very simply are consuming far less waste and buying less packaged goods. Our garden waste is collected fortnightly and turned into sale-able compost, our food waste is picked up weekly and used to produce bioenergy and we do our utmost to ensure that anything that can be is recycled or Terracycled locally.
We’d love to hear your stories, so do get in touch and share them.
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