It is nearly impossible to ignore the environmental issues we are facing.
If you didn’t see the heart-breaking episode of Blue Planet II, where a female pilot whale was reluctant to let go of her dead calf – a death David Attenborough attributed to plastic pollution – you will certainly have heard of it. It prompted national outrage and people called for a plastic revolution. The series also brought attention to the bleaching of the coral reefs and albatrosses feeding their chicks plastic, among other issues. Obviously, these were issues that existed before the show aired, but Attenborough lending his name to the cause has certainly caught the public imagination. This has led to people being aware that they could possibly be doing more but aren’t really sure what. The task of overhauling a lifestyle can be overwhelming, especially when faced with so much conflicting information. It can be hard to know where to start and becoming eco-friendly can feel like an insurmountable task.
I think the easiest thing that everyone can do is to use what they already have. Do you have hundreds of hotel toiletries hiding in wash bags and in cupboards? Or endless bottles of half used moisturiser? Maybe you have unopened bottles of shower gel from Christmas sets that you haven’t got around to using? That is fine, use them. Throwing away these items just because they are clad in plastic is counter intuitive. If you have anything that you don’t want to use, you could always see if anyone else wants it. If you have anything unopened, re-gifting is always a possibility too (or send it into school with the kids for the Christmas tombola!)
The same rule applies in the kitchen. When I found out that dish sponges had plastic in them, I wanted to get rid and swap to something better for the environment. However, I dutifully ploughed through the five or six that I had left before switching to loofahs, which are biodegradable. Use the time you are using these products to find a swap that suits you. Everyone is different, some swaps won’t fit in with some lifestyles. Being eco-friendly doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr to the cause. If you feel resentful towards your swaps, you’ll be less likely to stick with it.
Another way to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle is to consider the way that you shop. Planning meals and using this to write a list reduces food waste, which in turn saves you money, always a bonus! Buying loose fruit and veg reduces single use plastic and also gives you the option of only buying what you need. If you have the time or if there is one local, visiting a zero-waste shop is a great way to reduce packaging and they often have other products that may inspire you to make other eco swaps. I’ll admit that this has been counter intuitive for me in the past, as I am a bit of an impulse buyer (a habit I am trying to kick in the name of eco-friendliness!)
One trap that is easy to fall into when trying to make eco-friendly choices is buying into greenwashing. If you haven’t heard of it, greenwashing is a term used to describe the way corporations will advertise or spin facts in a certain way to make their products appear more environmentally friendly.
In a market where, according to this Nielsen survey, 66% of people are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products, it is easy to see why companies are targeting this demographic. From cosmetics that boast “three natural ingredients” and gloss over the list of chemical ingredients they use as well, to cars claiming to be “clean diesel” (erm, what?) greenwashing can be found in every commercial corner. My latest bugbear on this front is Tesco and their claim that they no longer use plastic bags in their home delivery. I already ask in the notes for my produce to be loose – a request that is often ignored – but when I saw this at the checkout stage of online shopping, I was thrilled. No more plastic bags! They will HAVE to bring my fruit loose now!
When my shopping arrived, all the loose fruit and veg came in plastic bags, even the butternut squash. It turns out that they meant carrier bags. So far, the only response I’ve had is from Jess at customer services who assures me that my complaint has been forwarded to my local picking team.
There are lots of genuine products out there, just read the backs of packets or do a quick google search if something seems too good to be true.
All of this might be a lot to take in, but rest assured there are some easy swaps that you can make with very little effort at all.
Taking a water bottle out with you is an instant easy win. Not only does it save you money and reduce single use plastics, but many places will refill your water for free, no purchase necessary. You can download the Refill app to find out where they are.
Another, probably obvious, eco swap is taking a packed lunch out with you. Again, this saves you money and reduces single use plastic. Swapping foil or clingfilm for a wax wrap or sandwich wrap takes this eco-friendliness of this swap a step further and as these wraps usually come in a variety of designs, makes your lunch box prettier!
Going back to what I wrote before about using what you already have, I think it is important to note that Tupperware is NOT the enemy. Yes, it is plastic and yes, many alternatives are already on the market. However, many homes already have an abundance of Tupperware or empty take-away boxes saved because they might come in useful. That moment is here, this is their time to shine! Using these things until they die is fine. The problem comes when you throw these things away.
Taking a reusable coffee cup is also a great little eco swap. Many places offer a reusable cup discount, and as a lot of these cups are insulated, they keep your drink warm for longer – a great thing if, like me, you often forget a drink until it is too cold, or you get toddlered and you’re too busy sorting out the kids to actually drink your coffee!
When starting out on your eco journey, it can seem overwhelming, especially if you have friends or join groups with people who are more practised than you. Hopefully I have helped you see that being eco-friendly isn’t about grand gestures and major lifestyle overhauls. It can start with a simple step.
In the words of Anne-Marie Bonneau (a zero-waste chef and blogger) “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Thank you to Louise Lock (one of my Eco Living Team) for writing this superb blog.