Back at the tail end of a pre-pandemic 2018, which currently feels like a lifetime ago, climate change was rightly dominating the headlines. From the meteoric rise of Greta Thunberg to the wise words and warnings to us all shared so powerfully by Sir David Attenborough, it felt like a major turning point.
It certainly was for our family. We’ve always had a love of the natural world and aimed to “do our bit”. We’ve never been big consumers or overly wasteful but we’re far from perfect (there is no such thing by the way…) so a couple of years ago we decided that we wanted to try a little harder still.
A few years prior, our first son (now seven) had arrived. Four years ago, his younger brother followed. Listening to Sir David address world leaders with the stark message that “Time is running out” was (and still is) terrifying.
As parents, like most, we believe that our overarching purpose in life is to look after our children and help them to thrive. Taking some form of action clearly fell within that remit. A quote that’s always touched me: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” had never rung truer.
We didn’t have all of the answers and we wanted to learn. So we launched an online community called Plastic Free Home, to seek and share information and ideas on living more sustainably. We said that if we found an audience of 100 like-minded followers, we’d keep going.
Since then it’s proven to be a fantastic and immeasurably rewarding journey. We’ve surpassed that target and some, finding over 35,000 followers in more than 25 countries. We’ve written hundreds of online blogs and articles in print, appeared on the radio and spoken at events – all voluntarily. And we continue to learn so much along the way, making gradual changes as we go.
In 2019 we wrote to Sir David to thank him and were touched to receive a handwritten letter in response, which now hangs in our kitchen.
Yet, we were reminded again recently that our biggest inspirations are our children and reassured that we’re on the right track. It was “dress as a superhero day” at our eldest son’s school. He shunned Spiderman and co and chose to wear his “Planet Protector” t-shirt from Friends of the Earth, a present last Christmas. This is the same son who this year convinced me to finally become a fully-fledged vegetarian (which my wife had unsuccessfully been working on for over a decade without success!), a choice he made consciously at three and has never looked back on. Proud is an understatement.
We are often asked, “where do I start?” and what are the “rules” when it comes to trying to live more sustainably.
Does it mean ditching plastic? Are overseas holidays a thing of the past? Can you buy loved ones presents ever again? It can be somewhat overwhelming for sure.
Our simple advice is to narrow things down in one of two easy ways – either select a point in your daily routine or choose a room in your house.
Taking the former as an example, you may decide to concentrate on breakfast time. Imagine that your typical start to the day is cereal covered in milk, followed by a banana and a cup of tea (with milk and two sugars), all from the same supermarket.
You might decide to swap to a cereal available in plastic free packaging or refilled at a local zero waste shop; to milk delivered in refillable glass bottles a vegan alternative or no milk at all; to a banana bought loose from a local greengrocer, farm shop or market or an alternative in-season fruit; and a sugarless cup of loose-leaf Fairtrade tea.
You will already very quickly have made some relatively easy and worthwhile changes, reducing your consumption, the waste you produce and your carbon footprint. Imagine that you normally buy one bottle of milk weekly (it’s likely more) – that’s at least 52 plastic bottles saved in a year – over 500 in a decade. Do the same maths for every item.
If you instead decide to focus on a particular room in your house; say your bathroom, you might opt to rethink the brands and products you are using when cleaning, bathing or showering, using the toilet, and for everyday purposes. Very quickly, these changes will begin to add up.
Work your way through your day or your home, exploring the changes you could make and identifying potential swaps that suit you when it comes to your needs and tastes, availability and affordability. Remember to only replace things once they have run out and been used to death – going on a shopping spree isn’t eco-friendly!
Spend time testing these new products, which in some cases may take at least a few weeks. Be sure they meet your needs and expectations and that you are happy to stick with them going forward. If not, go back a step and consider other alternatives.
If there are difficult compromises; for example the swaps are not easily available, less affordable or you simply don’t like them as much, you are far less likely to stick to the changes you have made. So take time to get this crucial step right to ensure that the changes you make are sustainable in every sense!
The more you adopt this approach, the more you will find that this mindset eventually becomes second nature. The aim is to consider the most sustainable option available every time you make a purchase, once you’ve decided it really is one you can’t live without entirely. And remember, new and updated products and brands enter the market all the time so it’s an ever-evolving journey.
“Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Repurpose and Recycle” is a brilliant way to think about things. Aim to give up on a few things, to cut back on others, to make positive changes where you can and avoid unnecessary waste.
We don’t advocate a “fundamentalist” approach. Instead, we like to view the possible changes you could make on a spectrum of possibilities. Any changes that see you move towards the more sustainable end of that spectrum are a great step in our eyes. In many cases, there are no perfect solutions and factors like affordability and availability, as mentioned above, will obviously play a big role. Things are rarely black and white either. Do your homework and try to be sure that any changes you are making really are better in the long run.
Where you can, it is always great to shop locally and to support independent businesses – often this can also help to further reduce your footprint too. We believe strongly that every single one of us can have a huge individual and collective impact and in the power of “voting with your feet”.
By that we mean, spending your money with businesses and brands that are working hard to be more sustainable and trying to “do the right thing”, and hitting those who are not where it hurts.
You might think that they won’t notice but just imagine that you reduce your weekly supermarket spend by £10 a week. That’s £520 annually. If 100,000 customers do the same, that supermarket will miss out on just over £5 million. If 100,000 people follow suit, the total rises to £52 million a year and if one million voted with their feet, it would add up to over half a billion pounds. We think they would start to notice…
Don’t forget too that politicians, from your local councillors to the cabinet, are in power because you put them there. The same principle applies – if you don’t like what they are doing (or not in many cases), vote accordingly.
You may also find our blog ‘What Things Can You Do at Home to Live More Sustainably? 10 Ideas to Get You Started…‘ helpful.
You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.