Trash Challenge Week 4

So here we are at the beginning of March, which means my trash challenge is done! It’s been four weeks of collecting all the rubbish I’ve generated (excluding items such as food waste), and it’s given me even more ideas for reducing my impact on the environment. Here’s week four’s photo:

Trash Challenge Week 4

  • 2 milk bottles
  • 1 large yoghurt tub
  • 1 glass soy sauce bottle
  • 1 bread bag
  • 1 small butter tub
  • 2 sausage roll wrappers
  • pizza packaging
  • 1 spring rolls box and plastic tray
  • plastic wrap and plastic tray from a whole chicken
  • 1 cod fillets box
  • 1 mine packet
  • 1 plastic grapes tray
  • 1 takeaway container
  • 1 crackers box and inner bag
  • 1 garlic bread bag
  • 3 chocolate wrappers (2 used for baking, 1 given as a gift)
  • 4 paper cases from a biscuit tin
  • 1 individually-wrapped mini roll
  • 2 old gift cards
  • assorted recipes and small pieces of scrap paper
  • prescription bag
  • magazine wrap and paper advert
  • junk mail (which came before I put a note on our letter box)
  • 3 cardboard toilet rolls
  • 3 contact lens cases
  • 1 Amazon box, paper padding and note (from a gift)
  • 1 instructions list
  • 1 sticker
  • 1 plaster and packaging
  • 1 cardboard label

There’s definitely still a lot I want to do, but this challenge has been great at making me more away about what I throw ‘away’ every week. If you’re stuck in an eco-rut or just fancy a challenge then give it a go!

This week I put a ‘no junk mail’ sign on our letter box, bought a sandwich from a sandwich van and had it put straight into a container not a paper bag (I was very proud of this!), tried to buy more things in bulk (such as meat and baking ingredients). I’ve kept baking too, which has definitely saved on a lot of plastic waste.

Supermarket shopping is a little scary for me at the moment, because I’m so conscious of all the packaging surrounding me. But it’s great to be aware of it, and I know that I’ve definitely reduced waste from fruit and veg shopping, so that’s a big plus. Here are my four photos from the challenge:

Trash Challenge Week 1 Trash Challenge Week 2

Trash Challenge Week 3 Trash Challenge Week 4

I don’t feel like I can see much of a difference from my photos, but as I said before, it hasn’t been very long yet. My blog is all about changing your impact on the environment and I know that if I keep making small changes then the amount of rubbish I produce will reduce. One of my main aims is still to cut down on food packaging, particularly that from meat and fish.

I hope you’ve found this challenge interesting – I really think it’s something everyone should try, even if it’s just for a week! If you don’t fancy collecting it, then you could try making a list of everything you throw away, and taking a look at it at the end of the week. Maybe you can spot some habits that you can change?

As always, I would love to hear from you 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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Trash Challenge Week 1

So I’ve finished week 1 of the trash challenge I have set myself for February. I decided to collect all the rubbish I generated this week, to see where I can make changes to continue my eco-friendly journey.

Trash Challenge Week 1

I’m not sure if it’s more than I expected, but it was definitely a shock when I laid it all out today! If you’re interested, here’s a list:

  • 8 individual chocolate bar wrappers and 2 outer wrappers
  • 4 sweet wrappers
  • top from a packet of chocolates
  • 6 yoghurt pots and lids
  • 3 tins
  • food packaging: 2 turkey containers, 1 sausage packet, 1 bacon container, 1 pie tray, 1 fish finger box and 1 pizza box plus thin plastic wrap and polystyrene circle from the pizza
  • 2 bread bags and 1 tortilla bag
  • 3 veg bags
  • 1 egg box
  • 1 milk bottle and 1 juice carton
  • 1 apple sticker
  • 2 cardboard toilet rolls and plastic packaging
  • 1 cardboard kitchen roll
  • used ink cartridge and wrapper
  • 2 batteries
  • 2 contact lens packets
  • assorted papers, including 8 receipts, 5 print-outs, 1 leaflet, 4 letters, 10 old cards, 1 invitation, 1 envelope, 1 expired voucher and 6 pieces of scrap paper reused
  • plastic wrapper from a magazine and paper advert contained within it
  • clothes catalogue
  • plastic wrapper from a congratulations card
  • bit of white plastic not needed from a set of drawers
  • prescription bag plus prescription paper

And this isn’t including the things that it was too impractical to keep, such as food waste, toilet paper, paper towels, kitchen roll, sanitary towels, contact lenses, foil from a butter tub, 5 paper cake cases and items disposed of at work (wrapper from a packet of printer paper, and some envelopes).

I found it quite hard to see all of this, but it’s also great because it’s shown me that I produce most waste from the food I eat. This is going to hopefully be my focus for the next few weeks, so I will be looking out for differences in my weekly photos!

This week I’ve decided to make desserts from scratch, instead of buying individually-wrapped chocolate bars (as you can tell, I have a bit of a sweet tooth!) I’ve also bought a 450g tub of yoghurt instead of 85g individual portions to try and reduce packaging from that.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by this but I’m reminding myself that I have already made a lot of changes in my life, and by being conscious of what I throw away I can make more. I also don’t throw all of these things away every week (the ink cartridge, letters and other papers, for example), so that’s something to take into account.

Anne over at Minimalist Sometimes is doing the Plastic Free Challenge too, so pop over and check out her post! Have you done something similar? Or perhaps you have tips on how I can cut down my waste? I’d love to hear from you!

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!

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 #3

Well, as you may have noticed from a lack of 100 Happy Days posts on my blog, unfortunately I stopped taking the time to think about the simple things that make me happy each day, let alone take photos of them!

But I have reminded myself how important it is to focus on the simple, often free, things in my life that make me happy, especially when things can get overwhelming. So here are some of my photos from this week!

I know the minimalist bloggers that I follow are great at focusing on simplicity and this really can help cut out things in your life that aren’t good for you or the environment .

IMG_1377

I wore this dress on Monday and it made me feel so summery and cheery! I was in two minds about keeping it before but I enjoyed wearing it and got compliments on it too, so it stays!

DSC_0105

I was waiting on a platform for a tube home, and it was really nice to just stand in the warm sun.

DSC_0106

I’m knitting a sock – I haven’t made much progress and it’s a little untidy (I’ve never knitted from the toe up before) but I feel like I’m gradually cracking it!

DSC_0111

A 100 Happy Days post wouldn’t be complete without a photo of a cat!

DSC_0113

I’m currently reading a book called The Gift (also known as The Naming) by Alison Croggon. It’s one of my favourites and I’m enjoying reading it again.

How do you incorporate this attitude towards simplicity in your own life?

Candles

When I wrote about Earth Hour, I mentioned turning out the lights and using candles for an hour. I have to confess that I took it as given that burning candles must be better. But how good is it to be using candles? All I could have really tell you before writing this post is that a candle is made up of a wax and a wick. I didn’t know where the wax came from, what the wick was made of, and what sort of emissions burning a candle can give off, if any.

So I did some research online, and looked at some candles for sale, and it appears that most candles are made from paraffin wax. They can also be made from more natural materials such as beeswax, soy, other plant waxes and tallow.

Throughout history, all over the world, candles were traditionally made from tallow (animal fat) and wicks made from natural materials such as rushes. But since the 1850s candles have been generally made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, coal or shale. During my research I found conflicting views as to whether burning candles emit many emissions and whether they are harmful. After doing some reading*, I think my view is that because when I burn candles I don’t tend to burn many at once or for very long, their impact shouldn’t be very high. I think it depends how much you use them and what they are made from.

But whether or not they contribute much to your emissions, I still think it’s disturbing that this is what candles are made from. To be honest, I’ve never actually bought myself a candle but I have been given many as gifts. But I would still like to know: what about alternatives?

100% beeswax or soy candles (check whether the soy is GM if that’s something that bothers you) seem to be best, or those made from natural vegetable wax. They are natural (check what the wick is made from too) and are unlikely to cause allergies or emit hazardous chemicals the way paraffin candles do. A good rule of thumb is to check what the candle and wick are made from and whether any synthetic fragrances are contained in them. I found this article, ‘Are Soy and Natural Candles Really Natural?’, really useful for how you work out if a candle really is all natural or not.

I can’t believe I’d never thought to investigate this before. It just shows how far I still have to go on my journey to go green! What do you think? Do you burn candles often? Or maybe you make your own? Do you think paraffin candles can have an impact on your health?

*If you want to read more about this, you could start with articles such as Candles Are Ten Times Worse for the Environment Than Bulbs or Particle Emissions From Candles Are No Health Hazard, both of which I came across during my own research.