How to live more sustainably, is a journey. There are many changes we can all make and each one is important and will make a difference. In this blog, you will find lots of ideas to get you started. This is not an exhaustive list, but will help you get well on your way. Some are easy, others more difficult. Challenging yourself with a group of friends can help encourage you. You won’t achieve everything all at once, but the important thing is to get started.
- Sustainable food and reducing food waste
- Cleaning & household swaps & recipes
- Personal hygiene
- Clothing and the impact of fast fashion
- Green energy, heating & insulation, energy efficient appliances
- Fairtrade and its importance for sustainability
- Re-cycling and re-purposing
- General plastic reduction
- Local shopping options to reduce waste
- Composting and how to ‘Green Your Garden’
- How to use your car less
40% of UK emissions come from households (CCC.org.uk) so we all have an important part to play. The impact of the climate crisis is visible all around the world, from bushfires to storms to floods. The world is recording record temperatures and record levels of CO2 emissions. 2020 is a crucial year for action and presents a unique opportunity. This year the 26th UN Climate conference will take place in Glasgow. World leaders will be under huge pressure to come up with an international, united and effective response to the climate emergency, so there has never been a better time to add your voice.
Sustainable food & reducing food waste
Everything we eat has a carbon footprint. The greenhouse gas emissions are produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and most notably, wasting, the food we eat. There are ways however, we can reduce our impact.
Cut out Food Waste
Cut out food waste. If Food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of CO2 after the USA & China. This is the biggest area where you can make a difference when it comes to food. Food waste in landfill emits a methane gas, 20 times stronger than CO2. Meal planning, always shopping with a list, using up leftovers and composting are key ways to reduce food waste. Many people have found just by eating last nights dinner leftovers for lunch the next day, makes a huge difference.
Choose local seasonal produce
Buy local food in season. This cuts down on packaging, transport and high intensity farming processes that are needed to produce food out of season. It also helps support the local economy & seasonal food is usually cheaper. Fruit and vegetables start to lose their nutritional value as soon as they are picked. Using fresh seasonal local ingredients means you get the best nutritional value from the meals you cook.
Reduce our intake of meat and dairy and buy local responsibly reared meat.
The average amount of meat eaten per person in the UK is almost double the world average with many people eating it twice a day. Meat production globally has a significant environmental impact accounting for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Try cutting down the amount of meat you eat and building in some vegetarian & fish days into your week. When you do buy meat, buy local from your butcher. All meat production is not the same and locally sourced responsibly farmed meat is far better than cheaper industrially produced meat.
Choose products that have been sustainably sourced.
Choosing sustainably sourced products means their production has had a lower environmental impact that other similar products. Sustainably sourced fish for example, has not come from depleted stocks, thus ensuring the survival of the species. The MSC logo will help you identify sustainably sourced fish in shops.
Organic farming is better for the environment since it produces less pollution, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility and uses less energy. Organic products themselves may also be better for us since they contain no traces of pesticides, hormones or antibiotics.
Fairtrade products as a direct way in which to help & support the world’s poorest farmers. You get a high quality product and also make a real difference in the lives of the people who grow the food you eat.
Cleaning & household swaps & recipes
There are many easy sustainable swaps you can make in the area of home cleaning and general kitchen products. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming and can save you money in the long run. Over time, marketing departments have persuaded us we need an abundance of products, many of which are single-use. In reality, household cleaning can be done with just a small quantity of products.
It is also worth considering the environmental damage that many of our household products can do to our rivers & waterways. Using environmentally friendly products can minimize our impact.
Alternatives to single-use items
- Beeswax wraps are becoming very popular as a healthy, environmental alternative to clingfilm. Although more expensive than cling film, remember, they will last 12-18 months and can be re-waxed. You can also use an upturned plate to cover bowls or invest in a set of re-usable containers with lids for storing food in the fridge & freezer.
- Wet wipes should be avoided as they do not break down (as they contain plastic) and cause blockages in sewage pipes. For cleaning, use cloths or old flannels and then put through the washing machine when you have done.
- Oven liners can replace baking parchment as they can be washed after every use.
- Toilet rolls made from recycled paper are an environmentally better option as it helps to preserve trees, protect habitat and saves energy.
- Many household cleaning products are now available as ‘refills’. This helps to reduce the impact of single use plastic.
- Swap printed or shiny wrapping paper for sustainable brown paper or even re-use material and wrap gifts Furoshiki style.
- Sticky paper tape is a good alternative to sellotape which cannot be recycled.
Home made cleaning product recipes
Home Made Cleaning Products are very effective, kind to the environment and much cheaper than shop bought ones. Once you have a few basic ingredients, there are many products you can make at home that take very little time. All recipes kindly supplied by Julie Swift.
All these recipes require the following ingredients. Most of these are used in multiple products
- Bicarbonate of soda
- White wine vinegar
- Citric acid
- Castile soap or soap flakes liquid
- Washing soda
- Various essential oils
- Squirty bottles
- Jam jars
- Cleaning brushes and old toothbrush
- Old towels or t-shirts
- Old laundry liquid bottles
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
- ½ cup baking soda
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 5 drops tea tree essential oil
- Sprinkle the baking soda around the inside of toilet bowl. Mix the vinegar with the essential oil and sprinkle or spray around the toilet bowl. Allow to fizz and leave for 10 minutes. Scrub well and then flush.
- Add ⅔ cup white vinegar and few drops of essential oil to the start of your wash cycle, along with your washing powder, to soften clothes and keep colours vibrant.
- 1½ cups baking soda
- ½ cup citric acid
- ⅓ cup fine sea salt
- 10 drops lemon essential oil
- 10 drops lime essential oil
- Combine ingredients in a large glass jar, add lid and tip upside down to mix. Use 1 Tbsp of powder per dishwasher load.
Citrus All-Purpose Spray
- 2 tsp liquid soap
- 10 drops wild orange essential oil
- 10 drops lemon essential oil
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- Put all ingredients in a 500ml spray bottle and top up with filtered water. Shake gently to combine.
- ½ cup baking soda
- 3-4 Tbsp liquid Soap
- 5 drops tea tree essential oil
- 5 drops lemon essential oil
- Stir ingredients together until they form a creamy paste. Dip a cloth into the mixture and scrub your bath, tiles or oven, then rinse off with water.
Mix equal quantity of borax substitute and Bicarbonate of Soda. Shake over sink adding a little water to make paste. Using gloves and scrub sink to remove stains
Mix favourite essential oil in to white Vinegar in spray bottle.
Polish with cloth.
Begin by dissolving the washing soda in the hot water. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Shake to combine and use up to half a cup per washing load.
Basic Floor Wash
•3 cups white vinegar
•12 cups of hot water
•20 drops of pine essential oil or one of your own choice.
Mix the above in a bucket and mop.
Over the years, we have become used to relying on many single-use and ‘disposable’ items when it comes to personal hygiene. Whilst convenient, these ‘disposable items’ are however extremely difficult to get rid of as many cannot be recycled.
- Plastic toothbrushes cannot be recycled & take over 400 years to decompose. Bamboo toothbrushes are a good alternative.
- Re-usable make-up and face wipes that can be put through the washing machine, are a great alternative to any disposable options, including cotton wool pads.
- There are many sustainable alternatives available to sanitary products. Washable cloth sanitary pads and sanitary pants are excellent sustainable alternatives. Mooncups are also becoming popular. If these aren’t for you then consider switching to 100% organic tampons & sanitary pads, which have a lower environmental impact.
- Soap bars as well as shampoo & conditioner bars last a long time and are a more sustainable alternative to liquid soap and bottled shampoo & conditioner since they don’t use plastic. You could also try refills of soap, shampoo & conditioner.
- A dish of traditional shaving soap, complete with brush and real razor are great ways for men to reduce their waste. They also last an incredibly long time, compared with aerosol shaving foams.
- Plastic cotton buds will be banned from April 2020 in the UK. Bamboo or cardboard cotton buds which can be composted will replace them.
Clothing & the impact of fast fashion
Fashion is the worlds’ second most polluting industry after oil.
There are 3 main ways in which this industry impacts the environment
1. How Clothes are produced
Producing clothes takes huge amounts of water which are often discharged untreated into local water systems. It’s estimated that by 2030, 47% of the world’s population will face severe water shortages. For example, it takes 7,600 litres of water to make just one pair of jeans and 2,700 litres to make a t-shirt.
2. How clothes are disposed of
Textiles should never be put into the landfill bin. Clothes release toxic gases such as CO2 and methane when they are left to decompose in landfill, which in turn adds to global warming.
3. How we wash them
When we wash our clothes, especially synthetic garments, thousands of microfibers are released into the water system. These microfibers are ingested by aquatic organisms and make their way into our food chain.
What can we do?
A ‘Capsule Wardrobe’, ie. one containing a much smaller number of clothes that you can mix and match to create all the different outfits you need, is the more sustainable approach.
Try asking yourself ‘will I wear this item at least 30 times’, before buying anything new (wedding dresses excluded). Lend and borrow from friends rather than buying new for particular events. Shopping second hand is not only thrifty, but the most sustainable approach.
Avoiding putting any textiles into landfill bins
Only wash our clothes when necessary. Use a Guppy Bag to catch the microfibers then empty it into the bin.
Green Energy, heating & insulation, energy efficient appliances
Green or renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale (as opposed to oil, coal & gas) such as solar, wind, rain, tides, waves & geothermal heat. Renewable energy causes a lot less pollution than fossil fuels.
Switching to a green energy supplier is a vote for green energy as opposed to fossil fuels & shows the demand is there which encourages investment. Some tariffs will be 100% renewable, others will be a percentage of the total. If possible, you should use a tariff that gets 100% of its electricity from renewables. According to Ethical Consumer Magazine, the two main things to look out for are :-
- Does the company supply 100% renewable energy?
- Is the company building new sources of green energy?
In August 2019 the Energy Saving Trust recommended these suppliers who all clearly listed the renewable sources of their energy on their websites. There will be others as new ones are becoming available all the time.
- Good Energy (https://www.goodenergy.co.uk/our-energy/)
- Green Energy UK (https://www.greenenergyuk.com/OurEnergy)
- Ecotricity (https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/about-ecotricity/our-eco-credentials/our-environmental-footprint)
- Octopus Energy (https://octopus.energy/about-us/)
Heating and Insulation
Energy usage in homes accounts for 14% of the UK carbon emissions. Ensuring our homes are energy efficient is key to reducing our carbon footprint. Poorly insulated homes loose heat quickly, which means you use more energy to keep warm. Make sure your loft & cavity walls are well insulated and reduce drafts around doors and windows with caulk. Upgrade your boiler if necessary to a more efficient one. Double glazing makes a big difference in helping your home retain heat. You may also be able to install other energy sources such as solar panels.
Visit www.gov.uk/improve-energy-efficiency to find out if you are eligible for a home energy grant to help pay for things like loft and cavity wall insulation.
Energy Efficient Appliances
The average household in the UK has 40 – 50 electrical appliances!
- Avoid overfilling your fridge & let food cool before placing it inside. Keep the filter free from dust.
- When boiling water, only heat the amount you need
- Using a washing machine at 30 C will use around 40% less energy than on a higher temperature setting. Ensure you have a full load before washing.
- Appliances left on standby mode cost on average £30 a year. Large TV’s use the most energy on standby.
- Computers, printers etc take around 9% of our energy usage. Switch off when not in use
- Lighting accounts for 18% of our household energy. Energy efficient lightbulbs use 75% less energy than standard to generate the same level of light.
- Don’t leave lights on unnecessarily.
- Install timers on appliances such as TV’s, computers, printers and broadband routers to switch off automatically at night.
Fairtrade & its importance for sustainability
Fairtrade is important for sustainability. Think of it as direct action. You get a high quality product and at the same time, make a real difference in the lives of the people who produce the product, typically some of the poorest or most marginalized farmers in the world. Fairtrade products are produced in developing countries (only) and are all about giving poorer farmers a better deal. Fairtrade can be the difference between farmers earning enough money to feed their families or not. It re-invests in local communities improving housing, healthcare and schools. It’s also better for the environment since it supports sustainable practices that minimize the environmental footprint. Many fairtrade products are also organic.
Recycling & re-purposing
By reducing and sorting waste, emissions from the average home could fall by 0.25 tonnes of CO2 per year.
We need to understand that recycling is not a magic wand and there is no such place as ‘Away’ when we throw stuff. Our main aim needs to be on REDUCING what we use, then REUSING and then finally RECYCLING. Avoiding single-use items where possible can have a big impact in helping us to reduce our waste.
All councils differ in what they recycle kerbside & indeed how they do it. However, it is often possible to recycle far more products through other recycling points and these are very important in minimizing our waste to landfill.
Recycling is complex and we should be aware of what can and can’t be recycled by our local council in order to avoid contamination. Recycling contamination happens when items are placed in the wrong recycling bin or when materials are not properly cleaned, such as when food residue remains on items. Not only can this result in that specific item being rejected and sent to landfill, it could also contaminate a whole batch of items for recycling.
Local councils will have a list on their website of what you can and can’t put in the recycle bin. If you are not sure, you should leave it out as it could contaminate a whole batch meaning that more items cannot be recycled.
Common items that can’t be recycled at kerbside.
- Loose shredded paper. This shouldn’t be emptied straight into the recycling bin, but can be added to your home compost. Loose shredded paper is too small and is difficult for machines to recover at a recycling plant.
- Black plastic (mostly in the form of food trays) Black plastic is difficult for the lasers to see at recycling plants and cannot generally be recycled.
- Polystyrene. Polystyrene although a plastic cannot be recycled. The best thing to do is to try to avoid products that come with polystyrene.
- Clingfilm. Also a plastic, but it cannot be recycled.
- Tin foil & aluminum trays can be recycled if they are clean. They should also be scrunched up into a ball at least the size of a tennis ball so that the sorting machines can recognize it.
- Some plastic packaging such a bread bags can be recycled along with carrier bags at larger supermarkets.
Items that can be recycled at many council household waste sites
- Mobile Phones & small appliances
- Mixed light bulbs
- Large appliances
- Fridges & freezers
- Hardcore & rubble
- Wood & Timber
- Scrap Metal
- Used engine oil
- Household waste
- Mixed textiles & clothes
- Cooking oil
- Hand toold
- Gas bottles
- Garden waste
- Mixed recycling
- Mixed glass, bottles & jars.
Other local recycling and re-purposing opportunities
Many items not accepted by local councils can still be recycled through other providers. Terracycle is one such company. They have programmes for recycling various different waste streams. Local drop off points can be found on their website.
Many other items can be recycled at various collection points in the local community. Recycling items is important as it means that material can be used again to make a different product.
- Batteries. Batteries should not be placed in landfill as they leak and contaminate the soil. Every shop that sells batteries has to provide a battery recycling point.
- Crisp packets. These can be recycled through Terra cycle.
- Petfood Pouches – all dry pet food & treat flexible plastic packaging and wet food pouches. See Terracycle.
- Biscuit, cracker & cake wrappers. See Terracycle
- Pens & writing instruments. See Terracycle
- Plastic Confectionary packaging. See Terracycle
- Plastic cleaning packaging, plastic air freshner containers and cartridge caps, flexible wipe packaging, rigid plastic tubs used in home cleaning, flexible laundry & dishwasher capsules & pods packaging, tinted fabric conditioner bottles. See Terracycle
- LOL Surprise packaging & Accessories & old toys. See Terracycle
Terracycle can recycle almost any waste stream. You can sign up to be a collector for specific types of waste. Schools, and work places are great centres for collecting harder to recycle waste streams. The scheme offers a points system which can be traded as payment.
Re-purposing is important as it not only extends the life of a product, it prevents a new one being made and so saves not only resources, but also energy and fuel.
Sites such as www.Freecycle.org & www.ilovefreegle.org are great ways to pass on stuff you no longer have a need for to someone else who will make use of it. This not only keeps your no longer needed item out of landfill, it also means that another person is not buying new so all the resources that go into producing a new product are saved.
Not all charity shops will accept electrical items as they need to be tested, but plenty do and most will collect larger items for free. Check locally but the following usually accept electrical items. British Heart Foundation, Sue Ryder, British Red Cross, Age UK
You can also recycle many electrical appliances, without buying anything new, at your local Currys PC World, from kettles to toasters to TV’s, regardless of where you bought them from. You may also be able to trade in old laptops for £50 voucher to spend on anything.
General plastic reduction
Only 9% of all the plastic ever produced, has been recycled, so it’s vital we find ways to reduce it in our everyday lives. Look in your bin, find the most used plastic items and start with those. There are so many ways available to reduce our plastic and more and more are becoming available all the time.
- Carry a re-usable coffee cup & water bottle.
- Shop for fruit & veg without any packaging or sign up to a plastic free veg box scheme.
- Take re-usable containers to buy meat and fish from deli counters
- Look for non-plastic alternatives to common household & personal hygiene products (see section)
- Have your milk delivered in glass bottles
- Ditch the clingfilm, which can’t be recycled, and try Beeswax wraps, or used an upturned plate to cover dishes!
- Make your own smoothies is a great way to reduce plastic and food waste. Smoothies work best with fruit that’s a little past it’s best!
- See if you have a Zero Waste Store near you.
- If you can’t find an item plastic free, try buying it in a larger container as this will use less plastic in the long run.
- Let retailers, companies & organisations know that reducing plastic is important to you. Consumer pressure has already achieved so much. Friends of the Earth have a petition calling for the government to introduce a new law to phase out plastic pollution.
Composting and how to ‘Green your Garden’
43% of household waste can be composted at home! It can be done all year round & it’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and recycle as nature intended. Click here for tips on how to get started.
You can order compost bins from your local council. These compost bins are mainly made from recycled plastic in the UK and are discounted. To order your compost bin please telephone 0844 571 4444 or visit www.solihull.getcomposting.com.
How to Compost
It is important the site is not subjected to extremes of temperature and moisture, as the micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) that convert the waste to compost work best in constant conditions. Position the bin in light shade or shade; it is often more convenient to use a shady area of the garden.
An earth base allows drainage and access to soil organisms, but if you have to compost on a hard surface, then add a spadeful of soil to the compost bin.
Bins retain some warmth and moisture and make better compost more quickly, but even an open heap will compost eventually. Any of the compost bins on the market should produce compost as long as they exclude rain, retain some warmth, allow drainage and let in air. Bins less than 1 cubic m (1.3 cubic yd) in size are much less effective than larger ones.
What to add to your compost bin
You need to aim for a balance of 50% greens & 50% browns to get the right mix. For more information, click here
Examples of green waste include :- plants, rhubarb leaves, soft prunings, tea leaves, vegetable peelings, fruit peelings & pulp, coffee grounds, cut flowers, vacuum cleaner contents, wood ash, wool, pet bedding.
Examples of brown waste (essentially dry waste) include:-cardboard, paper towels, cotton wool, egg boxes, evergreen prunings, hair, natural corks, nuts, paper bags, straw, shredded paper.
Keep out meat, bones & fish.
When is the compost ready?
Garden compost can take between six months and two years to reach maturity. Mature compost will be dark brown, with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland. It probably won’t look like the compost you buy in the shops and it’s very likely that yours will still have twigs and eggshell in it! Don’t worry… it’s still perfectly good to use. Simply sift out any larger bits and return them to your compost bin. Compost can be used for things such as flowerbeds, to enrich borders, as a mulch, around trees, to replenish pots, patio containers, healthier herbs and vegetables, feeding your lawn.
Other Useful Sites
Composting tips from Garden Organic
For tips on how to grow your own veg & flowers
Reducing your environmental footprint in the garden
Switching over to sustainable gardening practices goes a long way to building a garden you can enjoy, admire and even eat. It helps reduce your environmental footprint, by increasing carbon storage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing to plant and animal biodiversity. Here are a few tips to create your sustainable garden:
- Plant trees. Planting trees helps to store carbon from the atmosphere into the soil.
- Grow your own organic food. Not only does this help to reduce food miles, it also helps to save water and fossil fuels.
- Compost your waste. The less green garden waste and food scraps going into landfill the better, and you get to use the compost in your sustainable garden.
- Take responsibility for your gardening practices. Think very carefully before you reach for the bug spray or synthetic fertiliser! So many good, sustainable alternatives exist — use your compost to help feed your plants, and get worms and insects working for you.
- Minimise your use of powered tools. Mowers, blowers and brush-cutters can make life easier, but think about their environmental impact. Buy an energy-efficient mower, mow less often and keep the grass height to about 4 to 5 centimetres — it’s better for your sustainable lawn as well.
- Get the kids into sustainable gardening. At home, at school or in the community, if kids learn the right way from the beginning, they’re sure to keep gardening sustainably into the future.
- Create a haven with a diverse range of plants. Not only do you help increase plant biodiversity, but you also provide a habitat for animals, beneficial insects and birds.
- Build your garden for the future, not for fashion. Make your garden climate-friendly and water-wise. Understand your environment, weather patterns and the plants that thrive where you live, not what the magazines dictate.
A few essential tools for your sustainable garden
To create your sustainable garden, some things are just too good to pass up. Compost, mulch and worms all help to condition your soil and retain moisture, and you can get beneficial insects to work with you to keep your plants healthy, sustainably.
- A compost heap or bin: Choose whatever type suits your garden — a three-bay heap for a large property, a classic upside-down-bin style to place in an average garden, a tumble-type bin that neatly sits on a paved area or a bokashi bucket to keep in your kitchen.
- An insectary: A garden plot, or even a series of pots on a balcony, with at least seven different plant species of varying heights attracts various beneficial bugs to your sustainable garden. Good candidates to plant include amaranthus, coriander, cosmos, dill, lemon balm, parsley, tansy and yarrow.
- Mulch: To help keep in precious moisture, cover the soil around your plants with the finished humus from your compost or an organic mulch.
Click here for More tips on sustainable gardening
How to use your car less.
Cars & trucks account for around one fifth of all CO2 emmissions.
One third of drivers use cars for walking-distance journeys. Because emission systems fitted in cars take around 5 minutes to activate, many of these short journeys cause high pollution levels and expose drivers & passengers to harmful pollution bursts.
It’s important to turn your engine off when parked as an idling car can produce up to twice the emissions of a car that’s in motion. Each year in the UK, there are around 40,000 deaths linked to air pollution, with engine idling contributing to this. Idling increases the amount of exhaust fumes in the air, which contain several harmful gases which harm the environment and contribute towards climate change as well being linked to asthma and lung disease.
If we do need to use our cars, can we car share? Asking friends to car share for environmental reasons is much easier. For example, could you share lifts on the school run, to kids parties, after school activities, even trips to the shops or supermarket?
Planning time into our day to walk rather than drive short distances can make a big difference as well as being beneficial to our health.
There are many things we can all do in our everyday lives to reduce our carbon footprint and help to protect our planet from the impact of climate change.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Anne Marie Bonneau
Living a zero waste life is a journey. Make as many changes as are manageable. Once you start, you will find it gets easier and together we can all make a difference.