I’ve been “saving the planet” or, more accurately, “attempting not to be a total dick to the planet” since my early teens. The name calling has progressed from “hippie” and “treehugger” and these days, happily, being eco-friendly is something many aspire to. I feel I’ve got a pretty good handle on the food and clothes side of things, but it’s a bit harder when dealing with situations that aren’t in my direct control. So, over the last few years, I’ve been focusing my efforts around the house and when out and about!
I find it troubling when I hear fellow humans saying things like “we should take what we need from the planet, that’s survival” or “species always go extinct despite what we do”. Should we use our enhanced intelligence to pillage, plunder and destroy everything around us for personal gain? Is that right?! I choose life, biodiversity, and kindness. Today I have decided to share with you some of the easiest tips I have for you to make everyday life a little bit more eco-friendly. None of these are revolutionary, but if it makes you think “oh yeah, that!” then I’ve done my job.
This point is applicable to everybody unless you reside in a cave or treehouse. Who doesn’t use electricity and gas? I’m not going to tell you to line your roof in solar panels or install a wind turbine in your garden (although props if you’ve done that). What I will say, is why not find a company who source their energy in an eco-friendly way, and then merely supply it to you? This is what I did for our house a couple of months ago when we swapped to Ecotricity. As well as being championed by Amnesty and Friends Of The Earth, they’re a lot cheaper and WAY nicer than the absolute dickheads over at nPower*.
Also, swapping to Ecotricity is ridiculously easy. I feel nothing but shame that “swap electricity providers” was on my to-do list for MONTHS before I got round to it. In the event, a 3 step form was all it took. Ecotricity contacted our current providers, closed our account (and bless them for doing so because as I say, nPower are the worst) and swapped over everything for us. Stupidly easy. Other companies to check out are Bulb, Solarplicity and Green Energy.
I started using a reusable glass bottle for water years ago. It’s beyond easy; wait until a restaurant/bar serve you a glass bottle with a lid and then keep it. Wash it out, refill with water and BOOM. Reusable water bottle. I can’t believe I even typed out directions for that. We have about 3 or 4 spares in the kitchen at all times, and it’s stupidly easy to just fill up from the tap and put in a bag. I’ve started to feel personally aggrieved every time I see somebody buying a plastic bottle of water.
Whilst many bottles ARE recyclable, less than 40% of plastic water bottles end up in the correct place to actually get recycled. (Cans, on the other hand, are recycled nationwide.) Most head to landfill, where the compounds won’t break down for several thousand years, or end up in the sea, where they are harmful to marine life, break down into 14,000 separate pieces of tiny plastic, and, as you may know, are currently forming A HUGE PLASTIC ISLAND OF RUBBISH. THAT IS OUR FAULT. Seriously, is it worth it? Next time you buy a posh glass bottle of juice keep the lid and just re-use that. It’s as easy as filling up an empty bottle with water from the tap.
Because that is quite literally what it is.
No, they’re not fashionable, and yes, the free ones are all emblazoned with random crap. From where I’m sat now I can see a Beyond Retro tote bag, a “Shop Local! Lewisham” tote and a YeoValley yoghurt tote bag (?) which I believe is from Glastonbury several years ago? If it bothers you that much you can pay actual money for a tote bag on Etsy, although I for one am happy to advertise the merits of New Cross-based consumerism as I go about my day.
The great thing about tote bags is you can fold them up and chuck them into almost any size bag, they’re lightweight, durable and you can wash them. I like using them for gym/swim kit as I can just bung it all in the laundry machine as is; no gross smells being retained in the same piece of fabric for me. It’s a good idea to keep a spare tote bag in your everyday bag (rucksack, handbag or whatever). Whip it out if you find yourself picking up something from the shop and avoid the dreaded plastic carrier bags. Just keep one in there at all times! Seriously! It’s as easy as putting something into a bag. Because again, that is quite literally what it is.
Also, top life hack: if you have 20 different tote bags knocking around, a) charity shops will accept them and b) keep the number you think you need in another tote bag. So you just have one hanging on the wall instead of all 20.
Honestly, I had no idea straws were that much of a problem until about two years ago. Apparently, 500 million straws are given out daily in the USA, all of which end up in the bin, nearly all of which end up in the sea, where most of them are mistakenly eaten by sea animals who mostly die. Tortoises, dolphins, even jellyfish have been dead due to swallowing straws. Some large animals (i.e. whales/sharks) can survive eating plastic but as we know, plastic doesn’t break down, and so instead they have painful internal issues instead.
The stupid thing is, how many of us actually need the straw?! If plastic straws were some sort of life-giving necessity then there might be some sort of moral problem on our hands, but straws are basically crap. For most of us, it’s a decorative, non-essential part of drink. The “tricky” part about straw usage is getting in there before the cunning bartenders and waiters do – so pre-empt the straw. If you ask for no straw AFTER they’ve made your drink then they’ll take that straw out and chuck it, so you’ve still caused a straw to get stuck in a whales gut. Make a point of it when ordering. “But Laila, they’ll think I’m weird”. Just accept that you’re an eco-trailblazer who might be momentarily thought of as “quirky” by a stranger you’ll never meet again.
Alternatives to plastic straws can include whimsical paper straws if you’re a washi tape kinda person, or stainless steel and copper-plated varieties for the Pinterest set. I have a set of 5 metal straws which originally I thought I’d use all the time, until I realised that actually, 99% of the time I DON’T EVEN NEED A STRAW because I am a GROWN WOMAN with functioning teeth and mouth muscles who can grip drinking receptacles and use them in such a way that the straw is just totally fucking redundant.
People who put food in the same bin as recyclable packaging and non-recyclable plastic: COME ON. I bet everyone reads this and rolls their eyes because we all know we should be recycling properly and yet how many of us do? The average UK household generates a tonne of waste each year, of which around 95% is usually recyclable, reusable or compostable. Except what good is that if we chuck it all in the same bin? Whilst all councils offer recycling services, very few lack the utilities to sort out rubbish from household bins. Which means basically, if you put paper and apple cores in the household bin alongside plastic, it will all go to landfill rather than being sorted. You are supposed to be the sorting process which is why most of us have about four different bins.
So obviously sorting your bins out sounds like an absolute ballache, BUT! If you set up a system to put different rubbish in different places, then it’s not “sorting” at all: it’s just chucking stuff out as normal except into differently marked bins. Revolutionary, eh? Here at Casa Lyan, we have a household bin next to a smaller recycling bin, and a composter in the garden. If you’re new to sorting rubbish, you can print off a list from your council of what they will and won’t recycle and then just stick that above the bin so everyone’s clear. Most councils will provide you with necessary bins (this varies from place to place so check with your local council). We have a composter which came via Islington Council (who subsidize composters and other green waste products hell yeah). Easy, right?
So there you go. I’m sure we’re all aware of what we should be doing, but a reminder is always good, right? The main thing with all of the above is just making an effort to do it until such time as it becomes the default habit. You’ll find that once you’ve done something a couple times, it becomes instinct. I check my bag for my water bottle and tote bag at the same time I check for my keys and phone, and so on. Let me know how many of these you’ve already incorporated!
*seriously, I once got left talking to a machine for over an hour, and we once had our account cancelled, and we had to fill out a “moving to a new house” form to open a new account EVEN THOUGH WE HADN’T MOVED TO A NEW HOUSE.
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