It’s not easy being green. What does that even mean? “Being green”? Is it not producing waste? Is it recycling everything? And is recycled toilet paper a green step too far? Is it only using things that use less energy in the running? Or should that be less energy in the making of said item? Should we prize less air miles and locally produced over sustainable farming practices or organic food? If I’m picking out my food, is free range better than organic? And in-season better than no packaging. So many options. It makes my head spin. Why can’t things be simple? I need things simple, clear and simple. And preferably obvious. None of these trick questions and subtly complicated solutions. I need subtle like a brick in a handbag.
Everyone knows the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. We were doing our bit surely. Recycling glass, cans, newspapers and cardboard. We brought clothes to charity shops. What else could we do? One of the first steps we took here was to try to cut down on the amount of waste that we throw out of the house each week. Easy peasy surely. Just bring less in. Stop shopping for unnecessary stuff. Recycle more. The problem is, once you start looking at how much rubbish you produce, you just keep seeing more and more. So we decided here over many, many afternoons daydreaming, avoiding decisions and work and many, many cups of coffee spent talking rubbish that green might be a marketers dream but we would try it anyway. We would try to live lightly on this earth where we could. And we would try to not beat ourselves up if we slipped up. But still the question remains, where to begin?
We started with the simplest things. Food. We would compost our uncooked veg and fruit waste. I have a small bucket set up in the window sill of the kitchen to take all the peelings and ends of fruit and veg as I cook. When it’s full, out it goes to add to the compost heap. It will eventually rot down and we’ll use it to feed plants next year or the year after.
The cooked food goes into our wormery. We got a worm café from Wiggly Wigglers. It was a bit of an expense at the time but so worth it. Food goes in, the worms work through it and in the process produce what we refer to as worm juice. It stinks to high heaven but the plants love it once it’s watered down. Any of my ailing plants get a dose or two of this and they are rearing to go again after a few days. In addition what’s left behind in the trays is perfect potting compost for sowing seeds.
But even before the food gets into our home we could be doing a bit more. If I couldn’t grow it myself, I’d buy local where possible or buy wholefoods that hadn’t had a long list of processing carried out to it. But have you ever noticed how much plastic you bring in with you after doing the grocery shopping? My recycling bin needs emptying again nearly straight away. I decided to try to buy my vegetables and fruits loose when I could. I got some tulle bags to use. They weight next to nothing so don’t affect the scales and I can wash the veg in them and pack them away. They let my fruit and veg breathe so they last that bit longer as well.
I keep any nice paper bags or envelopes for reusing to post letters or packages or even when I am giving a gift. I’ve come across some really inventive ideas for gift wrapping. Cloth napkins or bags with a ribbon, calendar pages, plain brown paper with children’s drawings, old maps, scarves, newspapers. The possibilities are endless.
From the time I knew I was pregnant, we started looking into cloth nappies. We knew we didn’t want to use disposables. They were full of chemicals and expensive and the ones which had been used on me were still sitting in a landfill somewhere, however many years later and probably hadn’t even started to biodegrade. We wanted something different for the Little Paddler. And boy is there a lot of choice out there. But that’s probably a whole other blog post. Once we started using cloth nappies, it was an easy transition to cloth wipes. It was actually easier at that stage to use cloth wipes than disposables. And no, the energy and water used in the washing and rewashing does not equal or surpass the energy used in making all those disposables.
Actually, now that there’s a baby in the house, one of the things which we seemed to be really flying through, was kitchen roll. If you bought the cheap stuff, you used tons. If you bought the expensive stuff, well, it was expensive. And sure tissues were just a joke. I was washing nappies and wipes already so it really wasn’t that much of a leap to stretch to reusable kitchen roll, cloth napkins and go back to handkerchiefs. But not the big ones that my dad used to stuff into his pockets. I found Jo Crofts amazing website Boobalou Eco Living. She stocked the answers to a lot of my dilemmas and a few more I didn’t even realise I had! And if she didn’t stock it, she would try and source it for you.
She stocks hanky books. Gorgeous little cloth books each leaf can be used like a hanky and folded up back into your pocket. Then the whole thing is chucked in the wash. The Little Paddler is a bit of a snot machine at the minute and these are great. I may have to source another one or two.
One of the most common types of kitchen sponges is made from polyurethane foam. Great at cleaning with the yellow spongy side and the green scrubbing side, but not so great for the environment. I read recently that the manufacturing process relies on ozone-depleting hydrocarbons to blow the foam into shape and that the polyurethane can emit formaldehyde and other irritants and can form cancer-causing dioxins when incinerated. Not so nice. I looked for alternatives. And behold the un-sponge. Lots of Work-At-Home-Mothers make these with terry on one side and cotton on the other. Stuffed with recycled rags etc they are great for cleaning and you just throw it into the washing machine. You don’t even have to wait for it to dry to use again. For those times where you might have burned the pot (never happens here) I got a bamboo scraper. A little square of bamboo with rounded edges so it doesn’t mark anything. It’s great and will even take cemented Weetabix off of the table after Little Paddler has finished her breakfast. No mean feat, let me tell you.
I am currently trying out bamboo toothbrushes and cotton buds. These can be composted at the end. And the toothbrush handles make great plant labels. But The air miles leave me wondering if there isn’t a better solution. These are sold by a New Zealand company and manufactured in China. Although, it does feel a bit like the whole world is made in China these days.
I have also been experimenting with No-Poo for the last seven months. It is, as Mr. Fairweather continually points out, a very unfortunate name for a great idea. It is short for No-Shampoo. There are lots of reasons behind adopting this system; avoiding plastic containers; concerns about chemicals in the shampoos which contain carcinogens and can also affect endocrine functions and raise concerns about neurotoxicity; environmental concerns about how they are made; concerns about the fact that the waste from shampoos isn’t broken down or treated properly in lots of countries and of course economic reasons. With a bit of research and patience, I found a system that works for me but that’s probably a whole other blog post.
The question now I suppose is what next? Homemade cleaning products? Homemade soap? Family cloth? What steps do you take to be greener in the house and what should I try next? What’s a step too far?