Fireworks

This week’s topic was suggested by my sister Lauren…fireworks! Since Diwali was celebrated last week, and Bonfire Night is coming up next week in the UK – not to mention New Year and any other celebrations that generally involve fireworks – I thought this week would be a good time to investigate it.

As a family, we normally do a few small fireworks and sparklers on Bonfire Night, and I tend to watch fireworks on TV at New Year, but of course even small things have an impact on the environment.

I was really interested to find out what fireworks are actually made of. I knew they contained gunpowder, but that was about it. Professing my ignorance entirely, I was actually quite surprised to learn that they actually contain chemicals such as cadmium, barium and dioxins. If you want to know more about these chemicals and which colours they produce in fireworks, have a look at this brilliant little graphic and the accompanying article.

Just as pesticides used on fields can pollute water supplies and eventually affect us higher up in the food chain, the elements in fireworks can be spread great distances, affecting water, soil, plants, animals, and, ultimately, us. Whilst they may be very small quantities, the fact remains that they still have an effect and they are still being used. But I think that knowing about the impact that fireworks can have and making differences to how you celebrate with fireworks can still have make a difference!

Challenging why we celebrate using fireworks in the first place is a great first step. Bonfire Night is a tradition in the UK that has been developed on and enlarged upon until it is almost unrecognisable. We don’t have to stick to traditions that we don’t feel a connection to, but it’s also fun to celebrate even if the original meaning has been somewhat lost! ;)

Watching larger organised fireworks events could be a great alternative to home fireworks, because although these displays are obviously bigger, at least they are put on for much larger numbers of people than just your family or a few friends in your back garden. You also might want to consider how you’d get to a fireworks event, if you want to focus on the emissions you are creating.

Edible sparklers - from this website.

Edible sparklers – click on the photo to view the original recipe.

Some other great ideas – not necessarily specific to Bonfire Night – include:

  • Have a bonfire instead. Bonfires are fun to cook over, dance around and watch, as well as keeping you warm! (Please stick to burning wood though and don’t chuck any rubbish on there!)
  • Watch a fireworks display on TV instead of having your own.
  • Watch other people’s fireworks out the window or on the street. I enjoyed some whilst I was waiting for the tube home the other day.
  • See a laser display instead (thank you to the earlier referenced article for this idea). These are just as colourful and beautiful as fireworks. Going for this option will depend on whether there are any laser displays in your area, and how you feel about the power that laser displays use (although, on balance, I think they’re better than fireworks displays).
  • Celebrate with a party or street party.
  • Do some themed baking – just a quick search on Pinterest found edible sparklers which look fantastic (finger biscuits dipped in sprinkles, see photo) and fairy cakes iced with colourful fireworks.
  • Think up a fun new tradition. Wherever I am on New Year’s Eve, we always end up playing board games during the evening as we wait to celebrate a new year.

If you’re not ready for this yet, maybe you could try cutting down on the number of fireworks (or sparklers) you use to celebrate. Try buying a smaller box or saving half the box for next year instead!

Do you celebrate with fireworks? Or maybe you’ve thought of alternatives? I would love to hear your thoughts! :)

Does It Cost Too Much To Be Green?

When someone considers going green, cost is one of the first things that he or she will consider. How expensive is organic food? Can I afford to buy renewable energy? I’ve found a great article from the Open University website that discusses this – see below!

For myself, I’ve been trying to be more minimalist in my purchases, so I feel that I am happier to spend a bit more on buying natural products such as shampoo bars. I’m yet to take control of a lot of household costs and issues – bills, food etc. – as I am living with my parents until next month, but I feel that by gradually reducing unnecessary purchases the expense of going green is actually being lessened. Plus, as the article discusses, there are other, non-monetary, costs to consider if you choose not to be green, such as pollutants and greenhouse gases.

I’d love to know what you think – do you spend more on a greener lifestyle? Or maybe you find it’s actually cheaper?

Does it cost too much to be green?

All too often, looking at the short-term, it seems too expensive to be green. Cleaner hybrid or electric cars, organic foods, energy efficient domestic appliances, and many other green products, all cost more than their conventional equivalents, so the majority don’t buy them. However, if we look at the long-term, it’s possible that it may cost even more for us NOT to be green. There are four main ways that our actions today can damage the world left for future generations.

  • We are consuming non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels at a rate that will make them either very expensive, or not available at all, in a small number of generations.
  • The emissions of greenhouse gases associated with our fossil fuel use are likely to cause major disruption of the climate, making some areas uninhabitable and increasing the risks of major weather-related disasters.
  • We are adding other pollutants to our environment, whose long-term effects on our health, and that of other species, may be severe.
  • In modifying the environment to support our lifestyle, we are changing or even destroying the habitats of other species, with unknowable, but potentially serious consequences.

The costs that these will impose on future generations are unknown, but certain to be large. Should we be prepared to spend a little more now, to ensure that our children and their children don’t have to spend very much more in the future?

Is green really more expensive?

The examples above certainly appear to be more expensive. However, at the other extreme, “greener” actions such as switching off unnecessary lights, turning down heating thermostats or planning car journeys to minimise unnecessary travel, all cost nothing, other than a bit of thought, and provide instant monetary savings.

In between these extremes, there is a whole mixture of costs and benefits: short-term versus long-term and individual versus communal. I would argue that when we take the longer term and wider view, the green version isn’t really that expensive.

Better household insulation, low energy bulbs and other aspects of domestic design may cost more in the short-term, but provide significant long-term savings of both money and pollution. Expensive hybrid or electric cars are at the moment largely irrelevant, but why drive a large, heavy, fuel-guzzling vehicle when a smaller, more fuel-efficient, one could do the same job at a lower cost?

For short journeys, a bicycle is even cheaper! Spurious claims about the safety of SUVs and similar vehicles do little to hide the fact that most of these monsters are an expression of vanity on the part of the owner. Driving a smaller, greener, vehicle and driving it less, is only expensive in terms of the image of the driver.

The same is true of driving smoothly and at the most fuel efficient speed. But the speeding, stop-go driver is sure that his or her time is so valuable that to travel more slowly would be expensive. And there lies the nub of the problem.

It’s a matter of choice

How do we, as individuals, mentally cost our time, our ambitions, our lifestyle desires and compare these with the needs of others, born and unborn? Do we, or should we, consider these other costs when we decide to take a long haul foreign trip, buy a bigger car, or spend on other items?

Many of the goods and services we buy are designed to save us time, so that we have more time to enjoy the additional goods and services we believe we need. Buying the ingredients of a meal and cooking them is seen to “cost” too much of our valuable time, so we spend money on ready prepared dishes that only need to be reheated.

Other purchases are designed to satisfy other desires, such as for status, novel holiday experiences and so on, but all these things cost money. To obtain this money we may even end up working longer hours, to earn enough to buy the goods and services to enjoy in our vanishing leisure time!

It may seem crazy, but this cycle of earning and spending is essential for economic growth, the requirement of liberal market democracies. It’s therefore in the interests of governments, business and the media to keep this cycle in place.

Myths of market economics

Francis Fukuyama claimed in The End of History that liberal market democracies are the final end point of human development, and therefore in some way inevitable. But, as George Lakoff has pointed out, markets are actually designedExternal link 9 and created by humans, and are based on particular sets of rules.

At present, those rules do not allow for the costs of environmental damage, and deem that benefits in the future are worth much less than benefits now, but there is no fundamental reason why this should be so. It is just that we have chosen to set up markets in this particular way. The green product or service voluntarily incurs the current cost of environmental protection, while the non-green one does not.

Until a recognition of these additional environmental costs is built into the rules governing markets, being green will always appear to be expensive. There is an enormous educational and political task here.

In the end, money is only a means of exchange, necessary to obtain something that we as individuals happen to want. In a market economy, there will always be providers ready to respond to these wants, or even, dare we suggest, to create new wants, because that is what provides economic growth. But does it have to be thus?

Are we really such inadequates that our lives are only fulfilled if we drive the latest, largest SUV, take the longest long-haul flights to currently unspoilt destinations, and in the process destroy much of what we, or others, may want? Is that really the cheaper option? We are all part of the whole Earth system, so should we not make decisions that reflect this?

It may not be expensive, but it is difficult!

Being green is only really expensive if we think solely in terms of our current lifestyles and ignore the future and the less fortunate. But even in the longer term, it’s not necessarily going to be cheap, and it’s certainly not simple.

All too often, we can reduce one aspect of our environmental damage, and even save ourselves some money, but in the process, make another aspect worse. The hybrid car illustrates this neatly. Current versions actually emit more carbon dioxide per kilometre travelled than does a modern diesel car of similar size, according to research by Which? magazine. But the diesel puts out more of some other pollutants. So while either is better than the gas-guzzler, which of them is actually the cheaper, greener alternative?

Paradoxically, buying ready prepared meals could be a greener choice than home cooking. Meals cooked in efficient industrial ovens use much less energy per item than the myriad of domestic ovens needed to produce the same dishes individually. Storing these dishes in industrial scale chillers is also better than domestic fridges and freezers.

The trouble is, we need the domestic fridges anyway, and we probably end up making extra fuel-expensive journeys to buy the ready prepared dishes. There is a strong incentive for the food manufacturer always to source the cheapest ingredients, and the distortions of the marketplace mean that this may involve the materials travelling massive distances. So the theoretical environmental benefits of industrial food production are mostly illusory.

If we are prepared to look beyond the short-term in our decisions, we need to be aware of their environmental effects, and of the sorts of complications suggested here. There is a whole range of Open University courses that tackle these difficulties, from the introductory to the postgraduate. If you are seriously concerned about the costs of being green, these provide the information you need to help you.

This article is from the Open University website, and you can find it here. I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Flossing

So the topic of today’s post presented itself to me a few days ago when I vowed to myself to floss more often, only to pick up my dental floss and realise that it had nearly run out. A bit inconvenient, but I decided I’d have a think about what was best to buy next before I headed down to Boots as usual!

What bothers me most about the dental floss I use is that it comes in a plastic container, which of course has to go to landfill once the floss has run out. Plus the floss itself is designed to be disposed of after one use. Just a quick search on Boots’s website found five pages of floss-related products, the vast majority of which – excepting an expensive Rechargeable Power Flosser – are disposable after one use.

My next thought is – is flossing essential? Unfortunately, as I’m not a dentist, I don’t feel qualified to answer this question, but I have made a mental note to ask my dentist the next time I see her. It would be great to know her stance on it, but then I’m sure that dentists have differing opinions on this anyway. Do you know what yours thinks?

So for now assuming that I would like to keep flossing, what can I do instead? I have found a great article written by Beth Terry of the blog My Plastic Free Life, which runs over a number of options (in this post she also discusses toothbrushes and toothpaste). They are American products, so if you’re not American they might not be available to you, but interesting reading to see the different options out there nevertheless:

Eco-Dent dental floss in a cardboard box

Eco-Dent:My choice, after weighing all the options, is Eco-Dent dental floss. It’s what I’ve been using for the past two years, and I really like it. Unlike any other brand of dental floss I have found, it comes in a recyclable cardboard container. That was the deciding factor for me. While there is a very thin plastic wrapper inside the box and two protective plastic stickers on the outside, the amount of plastic packaging is minimal compared to all other brands.

What’s more, the floss is waxed using 100% vegetable waxes rather than beeswax or petroleum-based wax. The Gentle floss contains enzymes that help break down food particles between the teeth. The Vegan floss does not, as those enzymes are grown on a dairy substrate. Either sounds great, right? Well…

The floss itself is made from Nylon. Plastic. But I’ve compared Eco-Dent to other brands of floss, and to me, it’s the best choice currently offered.

Radius: Radius natural dental floss is made from silk. If you’re vegan, forget it.  If you’re not (I’m not), you still have to consider the packaging. The outer cardboard box can fool you. Inside is a regular plastic dental floss container.

Tom’s of Maine: The floss is made from Nylon with a hard plastic container inside the cardboard box.

DenTek Natural Floss Picks: In addition to their plastic floss picks, DenTek has created an “eco” option: individual disposable floss picks made from compostable starch rather than petroleum-based plastic. According to the company, they will break down in 180 days at a commercial compost facility. And the FAQ on the web site includes a link to instructions for building your own compost bin if you don’t have a commercial facility nearby. It seems like a green idea. But when you dig into the reality of it, you find just more greenwashing.

Bryton picksBryton Picks: Okay, this option just seems weird. I had to post the picture from the site because I couldn’t even figure out how to accurately describe these things. Bryton picks are not floss. Instead, they are made from flexible stainless steel strips that you slide up and down between each tooth. The handle is made from plastic. On the plus side, the device can be cleaned and reused for up to a month, probably longer. But I simply can’t imagine them actually working in the way that dental floss is supposed to work — below the gum line and around the teeth.

I’ll ask my dentist and get back to you.

Glide and other mainstream flosses: They’re made from Nylon or Teflon (worse), come in plastic containers, usually inside plastic blister packs, and are synthetically waxed. So why even consider them?

After doing some reading, I’m really interested in trying the Eco Dent Gentle Floss that Beth recommends. I’ve found it available on Amazon so I might try it (incidentally, I have been feeling unsure whether I want to continue shopping from Amazon so much when I do shop, but that is a big topic so I will save it for another post!)

It’s disappointing that the Eco Dent floss is still made from nylon though – nylon is synthetic, and is made from petroleum products, so you can see why this might be one to avoid. But cutting down on the plastic packaging is a step in the right direction. If you’re more concerned about the nylon, you could try to find a product made of silk (see Beth’s discussion of Radius, above).

How have you got round this problem? Which floss do you use?

Why Organic?

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about how eating organic food is much better for you than just buying the non-organic fruit and veg the supermarkets generally have for sale. But as with my post about climate change, I think it’s always good to remind ourselves exactly what organic food is, and why it can be better for the environment.

So, first of all, what is organic food? The Soil Assocation describes organic food here: “Our definition of organic food is food which is produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods on organic farms. These methods are legally defined and any food sold as ‘organic’ must be strictly regulated.” And organic farming is “recognises the direct connection between our health and how the food we eat is produced. Artificial fertilisers are banned and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover.”

Different countries have different standards that have to be met for a product to be classified as organic, but you can’t define a food as organic if it risks contamination from non-organic sources, e.g. having a field of genetically modified (GM) crops next to your field means there could be a risk of cross-contamination through the air. Also, some products – such as fish – can’t always be certified organic (in this case, the water they live in is influenced by so many factors that’s impossible to guarantee that it’s organic!) So certifying a product as organic is actually much trickier than it sounds, as crops, animal feed etc. can all be accidentally cross-contaminated, even if by a GM seed that blows onto the farm.

But what are the pros and cons of growing and eating organic food?

Pros:

  • No chemicals (such as pesticides) are used. Chemicals can kill wildlife and leach into water, causing health problems in animals, which can eventually work up the food chain and affect humans. They can also be absorbed by fruits and vegetables, so even if you wash them before eating, you might still be eating some of the pesticides sprayed on them.
  • Crops are rotated so the soil isn’t exhausted and still contains nutrients without having to add fertilisers and chemicals. This also breaks pest and disease cycles, as they don’t have a constant supply of food (according again to the Soil Association website).
  • Conserves biodiversity – as above, wild plants and animals won’t be damaged or killed by chemicals designed to make crops grow better.
  • Organic livestock will have regular access to pasture. They also cannot be given antibiotics.
  • More carbon is stored in the soil.
  • No genetic engineering or use of genetically modified products is allowed. So crops can’t be GM, for example, and animals can’t be fed with GM foods.

Cons:

  • Growing organic crops takes up more space than growing non-organic, so more land will be required to grow the same amount of organic crops.
  • Crops and animals can be more prone to pests and diseases as no chemicals or antibiotics are used.
  • Organic foods might not last as long as non-organic foods as they won’t contain additives to help them keep longer.
  • Organic foods are generally more expensive than non-organic foods.
  • Consumers have to rely on certification to know whether a food is organic or not, unless you buy straight from the farmer or producer.

I came across this good infographic a while ago (you can find it pinned on my Pinterest board Going Green – Food). Of course, not all fruits have stickers on, but this is a good guide to go for. (Click on it to make it bigger!)

fruit-stickers2

If you want to know more, you could start with the Soil Association website, or these articles: When Organic isn’t Really Organic and The Hypocrisy of Organic Farmers.

What do you think? Do you eat organic?

Sandwich Containers

This week I want to think a topic that I’ve been putting off for a while…the foil I’ve been using to wrap up my sandwiches every day. I suppose that because I can recycle foil where I live, I hadn’t before thought much about how much energy it takes to produce it. And foil is so convenient, so I’ve been sitting on this issue. I stopped using it, and then started again. A lot of energy is required to make foil (I really wanted to find an infographic showing this but the internet has let me down – do let me know if you find one!)

Today’s post is about the different alternatives I could use instead, although I’m still sitting on the fence a little about which one is best!

  • Recycled foil – this is so much better because recycling foil actually requires 95% less energy than it takes to make brand new foil! However, I’ve trying to move away from disposable options, so although this is a good option, it’s not the one for me.
  • Plastic container – e.g. Tupperware. This is what I’ve swapped to instead of using foil at the moment as it’s what’s already in the house, so it’s not costing me anything more. However, chemicals from plastic containers can leach into food, so if this is something that concerns you then this might not be the option for you, particularly if you’re going to be heating things up.
  • Stainless steel containers – there are a variety of these out there, such as LunchBots and Eco Lunchboxes. They come in different sizes, some with plastic lids, some with metal. I feel that this is the best option if you want to entirely avoid wrapping your food in plastic. I really like these, but I feel like they’d take up a lot of space, and because I have a long commute to work and back I would rather carry a smaller bag. I am definitely keeping my options open on these though as I think they’re a great idea.
  • Reusable sandwich wraps – there are a variety of these too, the Eco Snack Wrap being just one of them. They are designed to be reused again and again, but tend to incorporate some plastic to make them wipedown-able. But they do mean that you’ll be saving lots of foil/clingfilm/sandwich bags from the landfill!
  • Make your own – you could sew your own sandwich wrap, or even make your own out of plastic bags. Rachelle from My Zero Waste recommended this tutorial on how to make a recycled plastic sandwich wrapper. I do like this idea, but I feel a bit uncomfortable with it: the plastic bags would be unlikely to be entirely clean, and, as already mentioned above, heat (from the iron) would cause the plastic to leach out chemicals much more readily.

So these are what I feel are the most environmentally friendly options available to me for keeping my sandwiches all wrapped up throughout my day.

How do you carry your lunch around? I would love to hear about your experiences to help me decide which option I should go for! :)

Thanks for reading!

A Return to Project 333

A few months ago I wrote about Clothes and Project 333. I wrote about how brand new clothes use up a lot of resources (and can also be expensive), having a significant impact on the environment. Not to mention ethical issues concerning the people employed to make them!

I feel that the main options to avoid having so much of an impact on the environment in this way are:

  • having a buying hiatus;
  • buying second-hand or from sustainable sources;
  • making and mending your own.

Although of course these are interchangeable. I try to combine elements of all three!

I was initially a bit reluctant to embark on my own Project 333. I tried to donate or recycle all the clothes that I knew I didn’t wear, were past it or that didn’t fit any more, using the ‘hanger trick’ to see whether I’d worn each item or not. And for a while I was content with just doing this. If I wasn’t sure about something, I put it in a drawer out of sight to see if I would want to take it out and wear it again. There must be close to 20 items of clothing in that drawer at the moment, and I’ve only taken 1 of those out to wear – only to decide I didn’t really want to wear it and put it straight back again. Soon these will all be consigned to a charity shop too.

Following on from this, at the beginning of July I really felt that I wanted to take the step of living with less clothes and see how I coped. Here is a reminder of what Courtney Carver says on her website about Project 333:

When: Every three months (it’s never too late to start so join in anytime!)

What: 33 items including clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes.

What not: These items are not counted as part of the 33 items – wedding ring or another sentimental piece of jewelry that you never take off, underwear, sleep wear, in-home lounge wear,  and workout clothing (you can only wear your workout clothing to workout)

How: Choose your 33 items, box up the remainder of your fashion statement, seal it with tape and put it out of sight.

What else: Consider that you are creating a wardrobe that you can live, work and play in for three months. Remember that this is not a project in suffering. If your clothes don’t fit or are in poor condition, replace them.

Courtney’s rules are that your 33 should include clothes, shoes and accessories, but I decided for my first 33 I would only include clothes, although I am also keeping track of the shoes I wear. To be honest I haven’t bothered boxing up the remaining items (although this is more of a lack of space issue than anything).

I also created a little spreadsheet I could use to track how often I wore each item. Here is a snippet from July (click on it to make it bigger)! The items highlighted in yellow are those I wore most often, and red those that I didn’t wear at all throughout the month.

Project 333 spreadsheet

I’ve never been much of a shopaholic and I’m sure I don’t own nearly as many clothes as others might, but even so I have been surprised over the last month as to how content I generally am just with the choice of 33 items of clothing. Here is a breakdown, if you’re interested:

  • 6 cardigans
  • 2 jumpers
  • 5 vest tops
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 1 blouse
  • 3 long-sleeved tops
  • 5 dresses
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 pairs of leggings

Shoes:

  • 2 pairs of flats
  • 1 pair of boots

I should point out that my work wear and casual wear are pretty much the same (we have a very informal work dress code) so I haven’t had to set aside separate items for work, which you might have to factor in. Your style is likely to differ significantly from mine – and the climate could be very different – so you might have different numbers of items in each category.

I haven’t bought a single item of clothing for a few months now, I think, and I really feel that except for a new pair of boots (mine are falling apart and not repairable, unfortunately, and I would like to have some for rainy days to keep my feet dry), I have more than enough clothes to last throughout the warm/hot months of the year.

This project has also shown me how much I re-wear the same items. Even with this restriction, the fact that I didn’t wear 6 items at all throughout July shows how I always turn to my favourite items even when there is novelty or more choice. I suspect this is the same with most of us. Even if you don’t want to do Project 333, keeping track of how often you wear each item could be interesting!

I am definitely going to continue with my Project 333 items until the end of August, and then I’ll do a little reassessment to see if these items will continue to work if it’s cooler in September. Then I’ll create a new Project 333 wardrobe for the months of October, November and December, to include warmer items. When I move on to this new 33 wardrobe I’ll look through the clothes I chose not to include in my summer 33 and see how many of them I still want to keep.

I’m not sure if Project 333 is something I will continue every single season, as Courtney Carver and many other Project 333ers do, but I am really finding it a useful tool to assess my wardrobe and find out what I enjoy wearing the most. It is also interesting that no one has noticed or commented on my limited wardrobe!

Have you tried anything similar? What would you think about giving it a go?

100 Happy Days #6

Photos of the little things that made me happy last week…

DSC_0157

Enjoying a sandwich on the way home.

I tried out a new hairstyle, the fishtail plait. Not sure I got it quite right but it was fun to try.

I tried out a new hairstyle, the fishtail plait. Not sure I got it quite right but it was fun to try.

Enjoyed a sausage sandwich for breakfast at work - I forgot to take a photo until it was nearly gone!

I had a sausage sandwich for breakfast at work – I forgot to take a photo until it was nearly gone!

Relaxing in the TV room on my lunch break...it was lovely and cool and peaceful as everyone else was outside!

Relaxing in the TV room on my lunch break…it was lovely and cool and peaceful as everyone else was outside.

This is my Lush conditioner - it smells so lovely!

This is my Lush conditioner – it smells so lovely!

I've had a large pile of stuff to get rid of in my room for months...finally decided to bag it up ready to go to a charity shop!

I’ve had a large pile of stuff to get rid of in my room for months…finally decided to bag it up ready to go to a charity shop.

What have you been enjoying taking the time to do?