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Living ecologically

At home, we’re asking questions about how we live, the products we use and the trail we leave. Even the cat’s getting involved, and I think we’re making changes worth sharing.

Our Tetra Pak cartons rinsed, crushed, and ready for recycling.

Doing anything to improve our world involves at least some effort — simply separating rubbish into two bins requires extra work. Geri and I have reached a point where we’ll welcome additional inconvenience to make a more significant difference. As I’ve written previously, I expect the most dramatic change to result from organised protest, obstructing the system, and threatening profit margins. But it’s still vital we do more at home because individual choices and actions will compile into collective pressure that cannot be ignored. Everything positive is protest.

I intend this to be the first in a series of posts that log the changes we make over time. We’ve a long way to go and will continue to uncover problems and discover new solutions. We’re also complicit when it comes to travel and transport and many other factors, so I’ll tackle those issues in future instalments.

Reducing single-use plastics

Reusable items I often carry with me
Reusable items I often carry with me.

An obvious but important one to start. To avoid single-use plastics when out and about, we usually pack a few reusable items: spare bag, cutlery, coffee cup, water bottle. In the UK, we’re finally seeing water fountains installed in high street outlets like Pret and Greggs, and there’s the Refill HQ app to locate participating clothes shops, galleries and more. Campaigners are making a big difference here, pushing more petrol stations and public buildings to offer free refills.

It’s crucial we involve others, and I convinced my Mum to stop buying bottled water. I explained the impact, and she understood. She’s now filtering water at home and carrying a refillable bottle, replacing the six-pack of 2-litre bottles and several smaller ones she would buy most weeks. Time’s up for bottled water.

Tetra Pak disposal

Tetra Pak cartons are great for extended storage, but awkward when it comes to recycling. Tetra Pak says their cartons can be recycled, but local authority rules vary; here in Nottingham, if we put them in our brown wheelie, the bin persons slap a sticker of shame on the lid and leave it be. Tetra Pak does hope to deliver fully recyclable packaging made entirely from renewable and/or recycled materials, but until then, we consumers need to put in a little extra effort.

We use a lot of plant-based milk and occasionally tofu, and that all comes in Tetra Pak cartons. So, we started rinsing, crushing and collecting the cartons in a separate kitchen bin (see main image). Once that bin is full, we remove the lids, throw them all in a bag, and take to a dedicated recycling point at a nearby supermarket. Tetra Pak has a website listing every carton-friendly recycling point in the UK.

On the topic of recycling, we’ve also stepped up our general approach. We obviously try to avoid buying anything with unnecessary packaging. In the kitchen, we’re being more careful to read labels, understand complex and contradictory rules, and rinse and prepare recyclable materials. By putting in a bit more effort, we’re less likely to throw recyclables in the rubbish bin or compromise the green bin with waste.

Loo roll and paper towels

Who Gives a Crap
Who Gives a Crap.

This one looks flush from an environmental and financial perspective. We worked out what we spend on Andrex each year: it’s an average of £180 for 324 rolls, and each roll has 200 sheets.

By switching to Who Gives A Crap (shit name, great product), we’ll spend £160 for 240 lovely soft rolls, and they have twice as many sheets per roll, so that’s actually equivalent to 480 rolls of Andrex. For less spend, we’re covered for 18 months instead of 12.

If we wiggle the numbers to get a price per 100 sheets, we’re going from 27.5p to 13.5p per roll. As an extra bonus, Andrex is 2-ply whereas Who Gives A Crap is 3-ply, so we’ll use less, and it’s better on the bum.

We’re also getting our paper towels from them, and again, each roll has twice the sheets as our old brand, the not-so-plentiful Plenty. At a time when toilet roll sustainability is in the news, our overall roll sitch is now environmentally friendly, and nothing comes wrapped in plastic. Brilliantly, Who Gives A Crap donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need (apparently, more people in the world have mobile phones than toilets). If you'd like to make the switch, get £5 off your first order with this link.

Plant-based cat litter

Cat’s Best cat litter
Cat’s Best cat litter.

Bearface is now a senior, and with age comes a tendency to share indoor gifts of the odorous kind. We set up a couple of trays for him and started off with standard litter, but soon learned of a more economical and efficient product that’s also 100% natural.

Cat’s Best Original Clumping Cat Litter has no chemical additives, is compostable and completely biodegradable. It’s plant-based, but no trees are felled because the litter is made exclusively from PEFC-certified secondary raw wood materials from the wood-processing industry.

Bearface loves moving Cat’s Best around much more than the old chalky stuff because it’s kind on his little beans. It traps his stinks really well, so we also love it, in so much as it’s possible to love a cat litter.

Catching microfibres when washing clothes

Guppyfriend washing bag
Guppyfriend washing bag.

Microplastic pollution is a huge problem that most of us contribute to from our homes, not least from washing machines. Clothes consisting of synthetic textiles release countless plastic fibres which eventually find their way into the food chain via rivers and oceans. To help prevent this, we’ve just started using a Guppyfriend bag. The bag works by protecting synthetics from the destructive forces of the machine so that fewer fibres are shredded (an average of 86% fewer fibres, we’re told). Any fibres that do come away are trapped by the bag’s fine mesh, and easily removed every few washes.

The Guppyfriend site has a detailed Q&A all about how it works and the lengthy test program they’ve undertaken. We’re hoping to get good results from this little investment, and I’ll report back.

Incidentally, we bought our Guppyfriend from Patagonia. They've recently become our outdoor clothing brand of choice because, quite honestly, no other outdoor brand even comes close to matching their commitment to the health of our planet.

Smarter heating

Nest E Thermostat
Nest E Thermostat.

Last year, we finally installed smart heating, opting for the Google Nest Thermostat E. Based on thorough data collection since 2014, Google suggests UK customers operating their thermostat just as we do will save between 8.4% and 16.5% energy.

In colder months, we let it run to an increasingly smart schedule that responds to weather patterns and learns from our quirks. It also knows when we’re both out of the house and will switch to Eco mode. We get regular stats reflecting our usage history and tips for increased savings. I also like adjusting the temp from my phone when I’m stuck under a sleeping cat.

I should probably note that we also switched to renewable energy a couple of years ago. We’re delighted with Bulb, and that delight can also be yours. Use this referral link, and we’ll each get a sweet £50 reward.

More to come

This first instalment is getting lengthy, so I’ll save a few things for the next.

It’s imperative we keep pushing to improve the way we live, and soon I’ll write more about our return to composting, understanding food sustainability, and the most significant commitment we’re able to make. I’ll also face up to our travel commitments, and detail our low-impact plans for the forthcoming New Adventures conference.

We’ve made a commitment to this. Yes, there’s some inconvenience and occasionally more cost, but each and every one of us has a responsibility to make these improvements. Me, Geri, my Mum, Bearface… and you, your partner, your parents, your pets. What’s the next change you are going to make?