Eco tips: things to enjoy!

It can seem as if all the things we could or should do to tackle the climate crisis, involve discomfort, hard work, extra complications etc  and yet only produce a  potential benefit that will accrue some years in to the future.

A happy husband warm in a preloved duffel coat enjoying a breakfast treat!

So instead here are some things that are fun, easy, enjoyable, rewarding, and/ or have an immediate effect.

Eco Tips: more notes on plastics

Greenpeace has drawn attention to the very small, proportion of plastic that is actually collected and recycled in the UK: a mere 12%. (17% is sent overseas for recycling. In an era when we are seeking to reduce carbon emissions, cutting out unnecessary journeys should be a sine qua non. A further problem is that not all the material  exported is actually recycled; in some countries it is burnt or put into landfill sites – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/17/uk-plastics-sent-for-recycling-in-turkey-dumped-and-burned-greenpeace-finds?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

According to the London Borough of Richmond’s web site, plastic is recycled as follows:-

After initial sorting first in Twickenham and then in Mansfield Derbyshire,  plastics are transported for further sorting at a plant in Leeds: this plant separates high Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, a type of polyester) bottles from PET pots, tubs and trays and any plastic films present. 

HDPE flake recycled in either UK or Belgium Injection moulding products including plastic packaging and containers and cable protection covers.

Mixed plastic bottles recycled in Turkey, Germany, Spain Recycling bags and other plastic products.

PET bottles Recycled as new bottles

Pots, tubs and food trays Recycled in UK or else where in Europe Imitation wooden products e.g. garden furniture and other new plastic products

Contaminated recycling is incinerated. 

https://www.richmond.gov.uk/services/waste_and_recycling/household_recycling/ what_happens_to_your_recycling

Only PET bottles are solely recycled here in the UK, having been on quite a journey around England. These PET bottles are recycled as new plastic bottles – known as closed loop recycling. This is not to say that we should rush out and buy drinks in PET bottles. How many  of the plastic bottles on the shelves are actually made of recycled plastic (rPET)? Most still are made from virgin plastic.

Consider the alternatives. You could refill your own refill bottle from the tap which would be both economical and ecological. You could be given the option of buying a drink in a refillable glass or plastic bottle, perhaps one with a deposit to encourage reuse. (Heavy duty PET bottles can be refilled as per a glass milk bottle).

Greenpeace is petitioning the Government on the following points.

  1. Set a target for eliminating single use plastics by 2037 and halving such use by 2025. (There would be exemptions such as for medical items).
  2. Ban on the export of plastic recycling by 2025, including an immediate ban on their export to non OECD countries. 
  3. Implement a deposit return scheme for bottles
  4. Moratorium on expanding  incineration capacity in the UK. 

You can support this petition here – https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/plastic-pollution/?utm_source=SS (scroll down for the petition) or use this link:

https://act.gp/3ytd3QF

We too can be part of the change. 

*We can contact our local council and ask for them to reconsider where their plastic recycling goes. We can ask them to ban single use plastics within their organisation. 

*We can contact manufacturers and suppliers and ask them to reduce single use plastic, ditto cafes and food outlets.

  • We can avoid single use plastics by using our own keep cup/ flask for coffee etc, water bottle for drinks, sandwich box for pack lunches etc

*We can simply not buy things that use or come packed in plastic. 

Eco Tips: Stuff 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share my experiences.

Previous pages have looked at the use of heating and energy, food and travel for which it is generally easier to calculate one’s carbon footprint and assess the sustainability of alternative choices. Today I am going to reflect on the none food things I buy such as books, clothes, things for the house and garden. These all have a carbon footprint and have more or less sustainable credentials. Here are some of the ways I try to ensure that I use stuff sustainably.

*Not acquiring things that I don’t actually need. It is surprising how often we are tempted  – or encouraged by advertising – to buy things we don’t need. Do I really need it? Do I need to buy it now or could I wait and see if I still need it at a later date? Have I got something similar that will fulfil the same purpose?

* Research – find out what choices are available: which product is most sustainably, how long it will last and, if electrical, its energy efficiency. The internet is useful, as is Ethical Consumer which has both a web site and a magazine. When we needed a new printer, we bought a more expensive Epson model that instead of using disposable cartridges (which hardly last any time at all) has an economical  refill system  – and 8 months later we have yet to need to refill these. 

  • Buying second hand – or more endearingly, preloved – items allows existing resources to be reused  rather than consuming even more fresh resources. I buy clothes and books from charity shops with the plus of funding a worthwhile cause. Sometimes I can also find household items here too – such as a saucepan or a pestle and mortar – but then I do have to be patient as what a charity shop stocks is not predictable! I bought my mobile phone and iPad from Music Magpie – an online second hand site.  When I need a particular book I try web sites such as World of Books and Oxfam – I avoid Abe Books and The Book Depositary being subsidiaries of Amazon. If I buy new books, I use our local independent book shop. 

* Repairing rather than replacing. When something breaks, see if it can be repaired – either at home or via a specialist. Years ago, I bought a Globe Trotter suitcase because of their reputation for quality. When the handle broke, I was able to take it back and have a new one fitted. I frequently darn socks and T shirts, patch up tears, glue broken items in the kitchen, mend punctured tyres, takes shoes to the cobbler,  and buy spare parts from the manufacturer.

  • Up cycling – sometimes rather than buying, I can make what I need from something I already have. Eg pillow cases from worn sheets, plant pots from have cartons, a seed sprouted from a jam jar and a piece of muslin. Old inner tubes become garden ties, and shoe laces are reused as string. Old trousers become shorts, and trouser legs bags for root vegetables.
  • Making do with – enjoying! – what I have: I could buy a food processor but instead I use the knife and the ballon whisk I already have. We have an old kettle whose automatic switch no longer works but since the rest functions, we continue to use it. 

* Lending and borrowing: do I need to buy something if I am only  go to use it occasionally? As well as libraries for books and videos, there are libraries for things. I prefer to rent skis  knowing that they are going to be well used, as opposed to buying skis that would become obsolescent before they wore out.

* If I can, I look for options that will make a positive contribution to someone else: eg choosing a fair trade or organic option, supporting a local producer, buying from a B corp.

  • Packaging – I often make choices dependant on packaging, choosing not to buy something because it comes wrapt in plastic. For example buying a pencil I might choice the pencils sold loose over those pre-packed in plastic.
  • I prefer to spend money on doing rather than having: going to a cafe for a coffee and a cake rather than buying a magazine, going to the theatre rather than buying clothes, buying membership for a nature reserve (eg The Wetlands Centre) rather than cosmetics.

Eco Tips: living sustainably and travel 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences.

The single biggest issue that affects the sustainability of travel is the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used directly in the form of petrol and diesel to fuel cars, motor bikes, farm vehicles, lorries … as aviation fuel for planes, diesel for trains where there is no overhead or third rail electrical current,  the low grade petrol or bunker fuel used for ships. In addition fossil fuels are used indirectly where electric powered transport uses electricity non renewable sources. World wide transport contributes around one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. (https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint)

Sustainable travel has to be that which minimises the use of fossil fuels. 

Setting aside the means of transport used to get products from farms and factories to our homes and tables, and leaving aside the transport used by the emergency services etc. I shall focus on the transport solutions we use to get from A to B.

We live in a suburban part of London. We have good range of local shops for food, books, bikes, paper and craft materials, tools and timber, household and homewares. There are also schools, churches,  gym, library, GP, green spaces all within a mile of our house.

  • Our main mode of transport is walking. Cotton bags and rucksacks provide carrying capacity, waterproofs and umbrellas protection against the elements.
  • Second to this would be cycling. This makes the dentist, swimming pool, theatre, cinema, shoes shops and department easily accessible – all within a half hour cycle. (Cycling is a would-be as my recent neck injury requires a year’s restraint from such activities). When I both worked and studied in central London, cycling was quick, reliable and enjoyable. A well maintained bike, panniers or rucksack, waterproof clothing, lights and a helmets are essential.
  • Next comes the bus for short trips, plus the train and the underground network. This gets us all over London. 
  • Trains also provide long distance travel both here in the UK and across Europe, for holidays, visiting friends and families, etc. Starting off in London makes this easier: when we visit places less well served with public transport we do have to rely on family or a taxi to drive the last leg of the journey. Did you know you can go from London to Berlin or the Swiss Alps by train in a day? London to Glasgow or Edinburgh can be an overnight journey.
  • Flying we avoid. Next year we would like to visit North America and are looking to travel with one of the passenger carrying cargo ships. 
  • There are some trips which we do choose to make by car. For example when my husband volunteers on a steam railway in Hampshire, or when transporting a model railway to exhibitions. At other times we use a taxi for my mother who struggles with escalators on the underground. 

A rough calculation of the carbon footprint of the journeys I make annually by bus and train comes to 0.56 tonnes of CO2. If I were to make those journeys by car (even a reasonably fuel efficient one, 52 mpg) it would have produced 1.52 tonnes of CO2. If I had flown that same distance, it would have produced 2.27 tonnes CO2.

What I haven’t calculated is what my carbon footprint would have been if I had made all my local journeys by car rather than on foot. If say I normally walk 4 miles a day but instead make those journeys by car, I would produce a further 0.43 tonnes of CO2.

A further advantage of walking or cycling in terms of sustainability, is the low capital outlay or expenditure of resources. In the case of walking that would be resources used in making a pair of shoes, or for cycling, that of making a bike. Both will be significantly less than is needed to make a car. The resources needed to build a bus or train are considerable but when apportioned across the number of users and the life time of the vehicle, is probably less than the equivalent for a private car (which will often carry a single passenger as well as spending 95% of its life parked on a drive).

If you want to know more about the carbon footprint of cycling, taking into account the cost in resources of building and maintaining the bike and the calories consumed in pedalling, visit: https://www.bikeradar.com/features/long-reads/cycling-environmental-impact/

Eco Tips: living sustainably with what eat 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences. What we cook and eat and where we shop, has been shaped by three principles. 

First there is the LOAF principle, a useful nemonic devised by Green Christians. It is a guide for choosing what food to buy and eat.  https://greenchristian.org.uk/loaf-church-resources/

L is for local: locally produced food, which can include things grown or produced in one’s immediate locality and things where local can mean the UK rather than abroad. For example in East Sheen we can buy honey that comes from Richmond Park. We can buy coffee beans roasted across the river in Chiswick. We can have breakfast in Putney enjoying porridge or eggs Benedict made on the premises. We can choose to buy strawberries from Kent as opposed to imported from Spain. Equally we can eat strawberries grown in our back garden. We buy beans and pulses, seeds and grains such as quinoa, from Hodmedod whose produce is all UK grown. 

O is for organic: organic food has a less damaging impact on the planet than non organic food. Indeed it’s effect can be positive, with soils improved with vegetable matter rather than being stripped of its micro-organisms by fertilisers, with pollinators encouraged rather than being killed by pesticides, with livestock well cared for rather than being routinely treated with antibiotic prophylactics. We buy organically grown oats, and flour that comes from farms in Cambridgeshire and which is milled in a windmill!

A is for animal friendly: animals that live as near a natural life as possible (often organically raised). If we buy eggs for my husband we opt for free range, organic ones (although at the moment no eggs are free range owing to restrictions around bird flu). At Christmas the festive bird for my husband is a cockerel that has enjoyed a whole year of life unlike most of chicken meat which comes from birds that live may be 6 – 8 weeks (up to 12 for organically raised birds).

F is for fairly traded: the Fair Trade mark is well known as measure where production has guaranteed a  price above the market minimum, where the work force receive fair wages and where provision is made for services such as schooling and health care. We buy fair trade bananas, chocolate and tea which are now widely available. We buy coffee beans that have been ethically sourced from small scale producers who grow top quality beans, appreciating that the higher cost reflects their value.  

Secondly we avoid excess and plastic packaging, a habit we learnt through a zero waste experiment. We buy dried fruit and nuts, and dry goods such as rice, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, spices, sugar, cocoa, millet and polenta from local refill stores where goods are dispensed into paper bags – often ones we have brought to reuse. We also buy refills of olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, tahini and peanut butter, taking our own jars and bottles to refill. Milk – both oat and dairy – comes in reused glass bottles on the milk round. Since we cook meals from scratch we avoid lots of single use plastic boxes. Likewise making our own cakes and biscuits reduces the amount of waste we generate. Jam jars are reused when we make jam, marmalade and chutneys and when we bottle summer fruits. Deliveries from Hodmedod come in paper or compostable bags, flour and oats come in bulk in paper sacks. 

Thirdly we seek to reduce the carbon footprint of what we eat. Most meals are vegan – Paul enjoys cheese in his sandwiches and dairy milk on his cereal. A vegan diet can save in the region 400 and 900 kgCO2 a year. Even with a vegan diet there are ways of being more or less carbon efficient. By  choosing locally produced food, food that is in season and cutting back on food waste (other vegetable leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds all go into the compost bin whilst apple cores go to make cider vinegar) we aim to minimise our carbon footprint. We have a weekly fruit and vegetable delivery from OddBox which collects fruit and vegetables from farmers and suppliers that would otherwise go to waste – because supermarket demand has dropped, crops have been larger (or sometimes smaller) than expected), crops have ripened too quickly/ slowly, or items are too small/ big/ misshapen for general sale. OddBox by preventing food from going to waste, saves some 11,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Eco Tips: living sustainably with electricity 

22nd June 2022

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences. We buy our electricity from a green supplier – Ecotricity – as well as producing our own from solar panels. We are currently investigating installing batteries so that we can make greater use of what we generate.

Living sustainability with electricity is about not using it unless needed. 

  • no dishwasher and no tumble dryer – clothes dry on the line outside or a clothes horse inside when wet – and no freezer
  • Hand turned burr coffee grinder  
  • Hand whisk 
  • Broom and dust pan for most floor cleaning and vacuum bedroom carpets
  • Hand sewing machine
  • When we buy appliances – fridge, washing machine, cooker – we look for those with AA ratings. For a television we also opted for small rather than large screen. 
  • Ditto small rather than large fridge
  • Our regular wash cycle is the 20 minute express programme with 10 minute extra soaking time.
  • Only washing clothes when needed – a shirt will last 4 or 5 days, trousers and jumpers even longer.
  • I use an iPad rather than a laptop and an iPhone and where possible charge them when our solar panels are producing energy. Ditto for recharging bike lights.
  • Only filling the kettle as needed and only heating to the temperature needed – 94C for coffee.
  • Plan baking bread and cakes to fill the oven. Use these days for an oven baked dinner
  • Planning meals to minimise number of hot plates needed. Turning hot plates off before cooking finishes to use the residual heat.
  • Using the microwave to cook porridge, vegetables and fruit
  • Turning off lights when not in use and using low energy bulbs
  • No electric garden tools

Our metered electricity consumption for the last 12 months was 1542 KWh

Eco Tips: living sustainably while heating our homes.

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences.

About ten years ago we installed double glazing, put solar panels on the roof, installed cavity wall insulation and fitted two wood burning stoves in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint. The cavity wall insulation and the double glazing produced an instant effect with the house feeling much warmer. The stoves, when we use them, warm the whole house. We have burnt wood from two trees felled in our own garden (both had grown too large) plus wood collected from a local tree surgeon. All reducing our heating costs and carbon footprint. Both stoves were chosen for their clean burn credentials but current scientific advice suggests we should not use them because of the contribution they make to air pollution. 

Otherwise our main source of heat is a gas condensing boiler. To minimise our gas consumption and carbon footprint, we limit the hours when we run the boiler to an hour or so around breakfast time and for about four hours in the evening, turning the heating off about an hour before we go to bed. We heat only the rooms we use in the day time – kitchen, living room, study – plus the bathroom. We keep the thermostat at about 16C and wear several layers of clothes as necessary! Once the sun sets we draw the curtains in all the rooms, and these have thermal linings. In bed we have hot water bottles. 

The boiler also provides hot water. When we upgraded the house’s insulation, we also replaced the bath with a low powered shower – think light rainfall. Over the last year we have cut back on daily showers, replacing them with a wash in the handbasin. The distance from the hot water cylinder to the kitchen sink is such that to get hot water, you need to draw several litres of colder water. As this ultimately waste hot water left in the pipe, we use a kettle to heat water for washing up. This saves about 5 litres of hot water a day. 

This summer, given that we shower once or twice a week, we are cutting back further on gas by turning off the boiler. Instead we use the electric emersion heater when we do need hot water for showering. As we have solar panels, we aim to run the emersion heater when the sun is shining. 

Our annual gas consumption for the last twelve months has been 6739 KWH and for electricity 1542 KWH.

Eco Tips: Welcoming Garden Birds

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch results are now out – https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

The sparrow is still the most commonly observed garden bird but we have not seen one for about 20 years in our garden.

Can we do more to encourage bird populations that frequent our gardens?

  • Fresh water – provide a bird bath, pond or shallow bowl of fresh water for both drinking and bathing. Bowls and baths should be regularly cleaned and topped up with fresh water. 
  • Food – providing food is an easy way of attracting birds. Commercially produced bird food offers a wide range of seed and fat based foods. Some are specially adapted so that spilt seeds do not sprout so preventing a mini grain field growing under your bird feeder. Different foods can attract different birds. For example nyger seeds are popular with goldfinches. 
  • Growing bird food – you can provide bird food by growing it in your garden. Goldfinches like eating the seeds from dandelion heads, from teasels and from lavender bushes (leave the ‘dead’ seed heads in place). Blackbirds like apples. Starlings like the berries from the mahonia bushes and yew trees. Blue tits and great tits like eating aphids and other insects that congregate on plants stems and shoots.
  • Hygiene – birds can be killed by germs that multiply when bird feeders become fouled by bird droppings and by stale/ rotting food. Regularly cleaning bird feeders is important, as is removing stale food. The ground underneath bird feeders can also become foul so it is good to regularly move their positions and to clean the area underneath them.
  • Shelter – hedges and shrubs provide welcome places of shelter especially for small birds such as wrens and sparrows.  Bushes can provide a safe place from which birds can check out the safety of a  bird feeder before darting out. 
  • Nesting boxes provide a particular form of shelter. Different birds have different requirements. Blue tits need boxes with only a small opening, whilst robins prefer a wider opening. Swifts and martins need high level nesting places. Hygiene again is important: winter is a good time to clean  old nesting boxes ready for the new season. 
  • Variety of habitats – by learning more about different bird species, we can understand better the habitats they prefer and how we can shape our gardens to better meet their needs. Black birds for example are ground feeders. They eat grubs and worms that they pull from the soil. Short, rather than long, grass makes this easier. Black birds can’t hang from bird feeders but they can perch on bird tables. Sparrows and wrens like hedges. Starlings like tall trees where they gather and survey the land.

Eco Tips

4th April 2022

Gardens are our very own nature reserve right on our doorstep!  

There are many ways in which we can boost their biodiversity and make them even more environmentally friendly (space permitting).

  • Let your garden grow wild at the edges
  • Choose plants so that there is always something in flower throughout the year.
  • Create different habitats with trees and shrubs, ground-cover and climbers
  • Maintain plant cover over all the soil to protect; have different layers of planting. 
  • Use intercropping techniques, sowing fast growing vegetables between those that need more space, eg radishes between cabbages, or eggplant daises between leeks. 
  • Install a water butt 
  • Leave seeds heads and dead stalks in place over winter
  • Use hand tools rather than power tools 
  • Plant some soft fruit bushes or strawberries or rhubarb

P

  • Plant a fruit tree

Eco Tips: Spring Cleaning

Why spring cleaning? Because the hours of day light are longer and the sun brighter and we can see the dust and dirt more easily. With warmer weather we open doors and windows more readily  which feels conducive to create and removing dust. And there is the psychology of spring being the time for a fresh start! 

Spring cleaning – or indeed any cleaning – contri to the advertising of the

supermarkets, does not need a basketful of sprays and polishes, creams and scourers, nor a cupboard full of newly bought cloths – eco or otherwise. More useful are time and elbow grease. 

  • Use old/ worn thin towels and flannels, tea clothes and t-shirts/ vests. The soft material of an old vest is greater for picking up dust. Towelling is good for cleaning floors, sinks, tiles and other hard surfaces. Ex-cotton or linen tea towel are good for giving a polish to a surface. Old vests and socks are good for applying silver and brass polish and for buffing. 
  • Old toothbrushes are good for getting dust or dirt out of small crevices. (They are also good for cleaning bikes).
  • Water is good all round cleaner, especially for floors and tiles. Vinegar helps if surfaces are greasy. 
  • For washing windows use water with a splash of vinegar. Soap really isn’t needed.
  • When dusting a little vegetable oil helps pick up the dust but buff the surface after to remove excess oil to which further dust or dirt may stick. 
  • Vinegar is an acid. Acids dissolve lime scale so can use vinegar on taps etc – do a small check first that the taps haven’t been given a surface coating that can be damaged by an acid. 
  • In toilets vinegar may be insufficient to tackle lime scale. Try using instead citric acid which you can buy for cleaning purposes (cheaper than food quality citric acid) and you can improve the efficacy of the citric acid by first pouring a kettle of hot water into the toilet.
  • You can also use citric acid to descale kettles. Boil a kettleful of water, unplug and then add a little citric acid and leave to soak. Rinse well before using!
  • In line with reducing plastic products, wooden toilet brushes are a good alternative. Ideally they should have a hook so that you can let them drip dry over a suitable pot – eg a plant pot holder/ large jam jar.
  • Bicarbonate of soda is an alkaline which becomes a mild bleach when added to water. You can use bicarbonate of soda to clean your toilet – adding hot water will aid this. You can buy bicarbonate of soda for cleaning purposes from Robert Dyas or similar retailers. Again it will be cheaper than food quality bicarb)
  • Use a mixture of  bicarbonate of soda  and water to soak dish clothes to help keep them clean.
  • A mild solution of bicarbonate of soda and warm water is good for cleaning the inside of the fridge.  
  • Mixed together in water, bicarb and citric acid will react and fizz. You can use this to clean sink and shower drains. For best effect use 2 part bicarb to 1 part citric acid. This also works well in toilets. 
  • You can also use this to clean your washing machine.
  • Use bicarbonate of soda to clean sinks and baths by mixing the powder with a little water and apply with a cloth. Rinsing clean with vinegar will remove any residue.
  • As it is a mild bleach, you can also use bicarb to remove tea stains from mugs. Put a small amount in the bottom, add hot water and leave to soak. 
  • Although you can use a vacuum cleaner for hard floors, a brush doesn’t need any electricity and is much easier to put away. When you need a new brush, investigate non plastic options.
  • Brooms can be used carefully to remove cobwebs from ceilings or use a pole with a duster fixed to the end.
  • A regular quick clean prevents any build up of dirt which ultimately can be harder to shift.