As a family, we are making a conscious effort to make better choices for the planet so we would like to welcome you to join us on our eco journey. With the COP26 summit in Glasgow taking place recently and prompting the production of television programmes like Celebrity Trash Monsters and Shop Well for the Planet, I’ve been thinking a lot more about our carbon footprint and how we can live a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. In this article, I outline the changes we are making on our eco journey.
- What is COP26
- What is a Carbon Footprint
- Simple Eco Swaps to Start Our Eco Journey
- Bigger Eco Swaps to Continue Our Eco Journey
- An Eco Home Office
- Why I haven’t made changes before
- What Next on Our Eco Journey?
What is COP26
Putting it simply, COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties and this was the 26th annual one, hence COP26, What does that actually mean though?
For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. In that time climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority.UKCOP26.org
This means that during COP26, the various Heads of State and representatives worked together to try to tackle climate change, this is why there was a LOT of climate change and eco-related television shows, news articles and advertising.
What is a Carbon Footprint
The first step on our eco journey was to find out what our starting carbon footprint was so that we could identify areas for change and know if and when we had made a difference. A carbon footprint is a measure of how much damage an individual, company, organisation or event are doing to the climate. The lower your carbon footprint, the less damage you are doing. To start our eco journey, I used this calculator from WWF to see what our household (I answered the questions thinking about my entire household as one person rather than just myself as an individual to give us an idea of how much damage we are doing) carbon footprint was BEFORE we made any swaps.
For our household of two adults, two children and a dog living in a semi-detached house with two diesel cars, our starting carbon footprint was 13.8 tonnes (remember this figure represents my household as ONE person). The average per person in the UK is 12.7 so I am aiming to get us to 12.7, if not lower.
Simple Eco Swaps to Start Our Eco Journey
I didn’t want to suddenly dictate to my family that we need to make huge and drastic changes, I wanted them to feel comfortable and therefore willing to make changes. Small changes are far easier to implement and stick with than large and dramatic changes. I decided the best thing to do would be to start our eco journey with some simple eco swaps.
Now I feel I need to enter a disclaimer here. I am in no way an expert in eco-friendly practices, I’m not an eco-warrior, I’m not a vegan and I drive a gas-guzzling four-wheel-drive car. I am far from perfect. I know that there are a lot of other things I can do to reduce our carbon footprint. Having said that, the fact that I am making changes is definitely a good thing. How often have we heard that if everyone made one small change, that would make a massive difference?
What I am is a Mum who has had her eyes opened to the damage that we are doing to the planet. There is no planet B. I have children and I imagine that one day I’ll have grandchildren and great-grandchildren too. I want them to have a habitable planet to live on. In order for that to happen, I and millions of others with the same desire are making changes in our lives where we can. If enough of us make a change then one day the huge corporations will make changes, the governments of the world will make changes and we may stand a chance of leaving a better world.
Enough dreaming of the future, let me share with you the small changes that we have made to start our eco journey.
Swapping to an eco handwash is an easy swap. Things like bar soap that comes in paper or cardboard packaging or getting refillable liquid soap are far kinder to the environment, are easy to do and will often be cheaper than buying a new one each time. We’ve switched to a liquid refill and it is kinder to the purse as well as the environment.
In a quest to reduce our plastic usage, I have switched to using an EcoEgg for our laundry. After seeing it in action on a mud-encrusted rugby kit on BBC’s Shop Well for the Planet. Being an ex-rugby player, I know first-hand how filthy a kit can get so I was blown away by how clean it was when it came out. This link entitles you to a 15% coupon on your first order plus I’ll get some eco points which I can use towards money off my orders. Read my EcoEgg review here.
Smol Dishwasher Tablets
I have switched to using Smol dishwasher tablets and I can honestly say they are the best dishwasher tablets I have tried, and I have tried a LOT! Not only are they kind to animals and good for the environment, but they are also ultra-convenient too. They come delivered through my letterbox in fully recyclable packaging just when I need them. This link will entitle you to a free trial and I get a discount on my subscription.
Old Towel Squares Instead of Kitchen Paper
When some old hand towels and tea towels started to get a bit tatty, my mum (bless her) cut them up and hemmed them to make reusable clothes. These are great for cleaning and mopping up spills. I use them for pretty much everything that I used paper kitchen towels for. I do still use paper kitchen towels but our household consumption of these has reduced dramatically since I started using the fabric ones. That means we have reduced our paper usage and reduced single-use plastic usage as well.
Brown Paper & Ribbon for Presents
Not only is brown paper cheap it is also chic. Parcels wrapped in brown paper can look fantastic with a few decorations added. You could get your children to decorate it, use stamps or decoupage to decorate or recycle some beautiful ribbon to tea them with. Sadly I still use sticky tape to wrap them because I am yet to source some affordable paper tape but I am on the hunt.
I follow Emma Reed on social media as she shares some fabulous eco-home advice and has even created a home eco audit. On her website, she has some eco-cleaning recipes and also in her audit pack. As I start to finish off existing cleaning products I will replace them with homemade and eco-friendly versions wherever possible. I’ll also try to reuse as much of the packaging as I can and recycle where I can’t.
As you know we have a Shepsky who sheds fur like nothing I’ve seen before. I’m amazed she has any fur left! Famously huskies blow their coat twice a year but nobody told me that it was September to February and March to August! As a result of all this fur, a lint roller became a necessity for cleaning your clothes on the way out the door, for cleaning the car upholstery and for lifting the fur off the stairs. Standard lint rollers have a sticky plastic roller which was soon fuzzed up after a couple of rolls so we were going through them at an alarming rate. Then I discovered Lint Swept. This is a reusable lint roller device so there is no plastic to dispose of. I cannot believe the amount of fluff it gets up, even after I’ve vacuumed!
Loose Leaf Tea/Reusable Teabags
As I work from home and I’m at my desk most of the day, I get through an awful lot of tea. To reduce the single-use plastic within the teabags themselves and the packaging I’ve started using loose-leaf tea and a reusable teabag. My reusable teabags are fabric drawstring pouches from Forest Friendly that I add a teaspoonful of tea leaves and then use just like a regular teabag.
I use a stick deodorant and was getting extremely frustrated with the waste associated with them. For one thing, there is an awful lot of product left in the stick when it reaches the maximum twist-up height, Secondly, the packaging and mechanism to wind it up is made with a lot of plastic. I was unable to find any way to recycle this so I started looking for alternatives. That’s when I discovered Wild. You choose your case (get a free case with this referral link) which is made of aluminium and comes in a range of colours and designs, then you choose your refills. The refills come in compostable packaging and are delivered in plastic-free packaging. The range of scents is fantastic, they smell divine and they are made with natural ingredients so are good for the skin, my favourite so far is the pink peppercorn & pomegranate which was a limited edition winter scent.
Having a dog and laminate flooring in the hallway is not the greatest combination in Britain. There are usually muddy paw prints every time she returns to the house, To tackle this I give the hard floors a frequent clean with my steam mop which means they stay clean and fresh and I haven’t used any harsh chemicals. The added bonus of steam is that it drys faster than a traditional mop so the floors can be walked on again quite quickly.
Thinking About Packaging
This is a great swap that is easy for anyone to do and doesn’t require any additional costs and very minimal effort. Thinking about packaging. Now, this could be thinking about the packaging before you buy such as purchasing loose bananas rather than bagged ones. This could also mean thinking about what to do with the inevitable packaging that enters your home. Many supermarkets these days have a collection point for soft plastics such as crisp packets, vegetable bags or nets, chocolate bar wrappers etc. Your local council will also offer some kind of kerbside recycling but this varies greatly from council to council. Even within the same county, the kerbside recycling facilities vary, it all depends on which district council you fall under.
Bower Recycling App
I already recycle at home with my kerbside collections and as our waste has increased due to the Dinosaur’s medical supplies, I’ve contacted the council to ask for additional recycling containers for the increased cardboard, glass and plastic bottles. I’ve now found out about a great new app that actually pays you to put items in your recycling! How awesome is that? Now it’s not going to pay you mega bucks but to get a little bit of cash back for something you already do, it’s a no-brainer really! The Penny Pincher has all the details on the Bower App here.
Bigger Eco Swaps to Continue Our Eco Journey
Now I’ve talked you through some of the smaller swaps we have made on our eco journey I want to tell you about some of the bigger things that require more investment, either financially or with time.
One of the things we loved about our house when we bought it is the fact it has solar panels. Strictly speaking, this isn’t our swap as the panels were in place when we got here but we could have had them removed. These are great because they help to reduce our energy bills which have always been useful but with 2022 being dubbed the year of the squeeze, I’m even more grateful for them. On a bright sunny day, I can run my tumble dryer without drawing any energy from the grid which is a brilliant feeling.
Another upgrade that the previous owners of our house had done was have cavity wall insulation installed. Again this will help to reduce our energy bills as we won’t need to spend as much on heating. Essentially our walls and loft are stuffed full of thick insulation which is like a blanket being wrapped around the house. Martin Lewis, The Money Saving Expert has guidance around getting grants for insulation and boiler upgrades.
This is yet another one that had been done for use. When we purchased our home in 2018 it had already had double glazing installed throughout. If it hadn’t we would have had them done as soon as we took ownership of the house. Good double glazing can help to reduce your energy consumption by keeping the heat in and in turn help to reduce your bills.
This was a big change that we did make almost immediately on moving in. The boiler that was here when we moved in was already at least 10 years old so it was nowhere near as efficient as it could have been. Rather than waste money on an inefficient boiler, we opted to have a new, energy-efficient one installed.
At the same time as having our boiler installed, we had a Nest Thermostat installed. This clever device learns from how you set it meaning that after a week or so it will turn up the heating when you want and turn it down when you want. It also knows whether you are home or not, after all, there’s no point heating an empty house. Having said that, if you are away during a cold spell, the thermostat will keep your home just warm enough that your pipes don’t freeze saving you from an extremely costly home emergency.
Hue Bulbs with Motion Sensors & Timers
Alongside our Nest Thermostat, I’ve also invested in Philips Hue smart bulbs. These are energy efficient so they use far less energy than traditional bulbs. They are also smart. I can have them on timers so that they turn on and off when I want so that the house is warm and light when we need it to be. I also have motion sensors as my children are nightmares when it comes to turning lights off, this means that lights will only be on when we want them on.
An Eco Home Office
Now that more and more people are working from home on a full-time or hybrid basis, having a home office is pretty normal these days.
Traditionally, offices are not particularly eco friendly but Captain Bobcat has some great advice on how to make your home office set up more eco-conscious.
Why I haven’t made changes before
As I’ve already said, I am not perfect and I don’t claim to be. I haven’t made changes before for varying reasons, with hindsight though I do regret this.
One of the biggest factors affecting our eco journey and ultimately my shopping habits is the cost. As lovely as it would be to make eco choices every time I purchase anything, with a family to feed, clothe and house, it’s sadly just not financially viable. With 2022 being dubbed “the year of the squeeze”, energy prices increasing dramatically and the cost of living to increase, budgets are being stretched further than ever.
A few days ago was making a list of things I planned to buy from a refill shop and when I compared the prices to the supermarket, I quickly changed my mind. I had planned on buying things like loose leaf tea (£4.20 per 100g at the refill shop and £1.29 at the supermarket), shampoo (£1.15 per 100ml at the refill shop and 27p per 100ml at the supermarket) and liquid handwash (48p per 100ml at the refill shop and 16p per 100ml at the supermarket). Please don’t get me wrong, I love refill shops and I understand why their prices are what they are, the quality of the ingredients is usually superior and many times the products are from small businesses and artisan suppliers. Sadly, I and many others are not in the financial position to be able to spend significantly more to get a more eco-friendly product. This is where the supermarkets and huge corporations need to make a change, if they lead by example then the difference would be remarkable.
When my first child was a baby, I used to take her to the local library for stories and nursery rhymes. One week there was a lady visiting from a cloth nappy library. She was there to demonstrate how simple cloth nappies are to use and answer any questions that people might have. We were also given the opportunity to borrow a starter set to try them out and get vouchers from the local council to give us a discount if we decided to go ahead and purchase. I happily took a starter set away with me (not for any eco reason but because I was impressed with the savings I could make). I tried them and followed the instructions carefully but sadly they gave my daughter the most horrendous nappy rash, some days it was so bad that she was bleeding. I went back to disposables and continued with them for the rest of her nappy wearing days and also for my sons. What I’m ashamed to admit is that I didn’t research properly. If I had spent just a little more time investigating and asking questions then I would have discovered that the most likely cause for the nappy rash wasn’t the reusable nappies as such, it was a build-up of detergent in them (which makes sense as they were donated to the project in the first place and were being continually loaned out). If I had have done my research properly I would have found this out and strip washed them which, in turn, should have solved the problem. If I ever have any more children I will bear this in mind and try reusables again.
Another reason why I haven’t started out eco journey sooner is laziness on my part. As a busy working mum, convenience and value often outweigh moral choices. As supermarkets don’t stock much in the way of loose fruit and veg, plastic-free packaging and eco-friendly options (disclaimer, they are getting much better at this but there is still a long way to go), I didn’t tend to buy them. When you are working full time, have housework to do and have a child or children to look after, it is difficult to find the time to visit multiple different shops to buy products from places like the butchers, the greengrocer, the bakers and so on. That’s if you even have stores like that accessible to you. It is far more convenient to do it all in one place, even if that place does wrap everything in plastic.
Let’s not forget that the supermarkets don’t always make it clear how much items will cost or make it easy to compare loose with prepackaged. Let’s take bananas for instance. In the supermarket, you can buy them loose or in prepackaged bunches. The prepackaged ones have a price on the shelf for the bag. The bananas in each bag are all pretty much identical in size and there is always the same number in each bag. Loose bananas on the other hand are a mixture of sizes (very few of which are on a par with the ones in the packets) and have a price on the shelf based on weight eg a kilogram of loose bananas will cost you XX amount of money. How do you compare? It is difficult to know how much the prepackaged ones will cost by weight. The scales that are usually available should you wish to weigh your produce are normally tricky to read. I’m not saying it is impossible to compare the cost of loose versus packaged on a weight basis, I’m just saying it is difficult to do especially when you are in the middle of your trip around the supermarket, you might be busy and rushing to the next thing or have a child or two with you to distract you. Who really has time to stand there and work out how much your bananas cost?
Sadly my local council doesn’t allow us to recycle as much as I would like at the kerbside so this has been a bit of a barrier to our eco journey. Kerbside recycling varies so much around the UK, in Monmouthshire, less than 10 miles away from my house, you can recycle plastic food trays but here in the Forest of Dean, you can’t. I haven’t managed to find anywhere that I can recycle these other than taking them to my father in-laws house which isn’t ideal. The best I can do about plastic food trays is reduce the amount we buy as much as we can.
This has been a big factor for me in the past, the embarrassment of not knowing what to do in an eco shop. There are so many things to consider and it is not always obvious such as do I help myself or do I have to get the staff member to do it? Is there a minimum amount that needs to be purchased? What sort of containers do I need to take to be refilled? I’ve always been nervous about looking stupid and asking how to use a refill shop which has stopped me in the past. Now that I have started our eco journey I am looking into doing this more where I can.
What Next on Our Eco Journey?
We are going to continue with the changes we have made and see if we can make further changes along the line. With the things we have done so far, our carbon footprint is now down to 13.6 tonnes. This is not a huge reduction but the WWF calculator doesn’t allow me to input all the changes we have made such as using the EcoEgg, Smol, natural homemade cleaners, in fact, all of the things I have outlined above. In actual fact, I’m sure our carbon footprint will have reduced further so I will keep searching for a better carbon footprint calculator.
Another important part of our eco journey is to teach our children how to be more aware of their surroundings. Jade from Mummy and Me x2 has some tips on how to do this.