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!

Trash Challenge Week 3

Welcome to week 3 of my trash challenge! It’s been interesting again this week to see where all my rubbish has come from – food is still the main culprit!

Trash Challenge Week 3

  • 3 tins
  • 1 large yoghurt pot
  • 1 milk bottle
  • 1 paper sandwich bag
  • food packaging: 1 sausage packet, 1 mince packet, pizza packaging, 1 pie box, 1 cardboard egg carton, 1 foil pie tray, 2 cereal boxes plus inner plastic bags and 1 plastic wrapper from a gammon joint (which somehow missed the photo)
  • chocolate box and chocolate wrappers, 3 chocolate bar wrappers
  • paper cases from a box of biscuits
  • baking chocolate wrapper and inner foil
  • foil
  • 1 plastic grapes bag
  • 3 bread bags
  • 1 tea bag packet
  • takeaway cartons and bag from last week (it lasted us 2 meals so spilled over into this week’ trash count)
  • 2 cardboard toilet rolls
  • medication blister packet
  • assorted papers: junk mail, scrap papers, 2 receipts, 2 envelopes and letters
  • 1 contact lens case
  • plaster packaging

I feel that it’s a little less than last week, but ultimately it’s only been 3 weeks since I started the challenge so I’ve only made a few small changes so far.

This week I continued to bake (brownies and cookies), although I succumbed to a couple of chocolate bars whilst at work. We didn’t pick up much packaging from buying fruit and veg again, and we won’t as long as we stick to greengrocers rather than supermarkets! We have also tried to buy a few more things in bulk packaging, such as meat and rice. I’m hoping that this’ll mean there’s a smaller packaging:food ratio and therefore less waste.

We also bought a joint of gammon to cook and slice for lunches during the week rather than buying small packets of ready-cooked ham or chicken. It worked really well and definitely reduced our trash in that area.

From buying the takeaway and a sandwich from a sandwich shop, I’ve learnt more forcefully how so much of being eco-friendly involves preparation and planning in advance. We’ve got very good at remembering reusable bags whenever we go shopping so hopefully I can extend this to other areas of my life too.

I also signed up to the Mail Preference Service I mentioned last week. This means that I should no longer receive direct mail from companies that I haven’t previously done business with. This should reduce our post slightly, but I think I’m also going to put a ‘No junk mail’ notice on our letter box to try and reduce the many leaflets we get each week, which tend to go straight to the recycling bin!

With one more week to go on this trash challenge, I’m going to continue thinking about changes I can make, and keep up with those I’ve already started. As a meat eater, I’ve noticed that a lot of packaging comes with meat, and I’d really like to reduce this. Visiting a butcher or meat counter with my own containers could be a good option so hopefully I’ll be able to explore this soon too.

Thank you for reading, and good luck on your own eco-friendly journey as always!

Trash Challenge Week 2

Here we are the end of the second week of my trash challenge! I’ve been feeling very self-conscious about all the rubbish I’ve generated this week, and have had it on my mind a lot, so this challenge is definitely heightening my awareness, which is great. Here’s my rubbish from this week:

Trash Challenge Week 2

Again, if you’re interested, here’s a list of it all:

  • 1 milk bottle
  • 2 large jars, 1 small jar and 1 small tin
  • 1 cardboard box for cocoa powder
  • 1 large butter tub and 1 large yoghurt pot
  • 4 sweet wrappers and 1 chocolates bag
  • 1 pie tray
  • 1 bread bag, 1 bagel bag and 1 garlic bread bag
  • other food packaging: 1 sausage roll bag, 1 fish finger box, 2 meat packets, 2 cheese packets, 1 broccoli and cauliflower bag
  • 1 fortune cookie wrapper and fortune
  • 1 tea bag packet
  • 1 apple sticker
  • 1 cardboard toilet roll
  • 1 contact lens packet and 1 contact lens cardboard box
  • packaging from a bunch of flowers
  • clothing price tags (I forgot to add these last week)
  • assorted papers, including a pile of junk mail, 1 letter, receipts, 1 envelope, scrap papers reused and 3 print-outs
  • address paper and packaging from a magazine (apparently the packaging should be biodegradable)
  • plasters and packaging
  • 2 medication boxes
  • 2 boxes and 1 padded envelope
  • box and packaging from kitchenware
  • 2 cardboard kitchenware labels

It’s easy to see that it’s tricky to completely turn things around in one week. But I’ve tried to make some small changes. For example, the only packaging we picked up whilst shopping in the greengrocer’s this week was the plastic bag the grapes came in. I also switched to yoghurt in a larger pot – it’s Yeovalley, which is organic and made in the UK, so I’m happy to stick with this for now. I’ve been putting a portion in a small tupperware to take to work each day.

I tried to make tortillas instead of buying them, a recipe that I think will need some practise! And I baked shortbread and a cake instead of eating shop-bought desserts.

This week I’ll try to keep baking instead of buying desserts, and I’m going to investigate how to reduce junk mail through the Mail Preference Service. This won’t stop me from getting junk mail entirely but it could help to reduce that which is directly addressed to me.

It’s a slow journey but I’m quite enjoying this challenge and trying out new ways of reducing my waste. Again, I’d love to hear any tips or links to others’ posts about similar challenges!

 

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!

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?