I don’t know at what point I suddenly took my blinkers off. One day I was in a department store. Probably slightly lost, I rarely go shopping and I was wandering through a great expanse of stuff. I think I had drifted into the menswear section and was staring at long lines of costume jewellery. I looked up and across racks and rails of clothes of every colour and every size. For the first time ever I thought, where does all this stuff go? I admit I started to feel a bit sick as I imagined thousands of similar stores with all their stuff changing over every season. Where does it all go?
I went back home and started to look around our own house with fresh eyes. Similar to the store there was mountains of stuff. Despite best efforts to be tidy and streamlined there was still heaps of things, some so random I couldn’t even fathom why we had them. I thought about the last time we did a clear out and a tidy up. It’s true that mostly everything we jettison is packaged up and dropped at charity shops, like clothes, shoes and toys the kids have grown out of, that can’t be passed on to friends’ kids. Most of the stuff we have is handed down to us as well so it has a long, long life. Despite this “reuse” mentality we still seem to be awash in a lot of human flotsam so a “reduce” approach was definitely needed.
I ordered a second recycling bin for our house as soon as we moved in. I recycle in an obsessive way. Every item of packaging is washed out and chucked in. It’s easy to recycle these days. You don’t even need to separate much any more so there really isn’t any excuse for not doing it. I remember when I was a child and the notion of recycling had only just started. It was always drinks cans that you could squash and recycle for pocket money. I can remember a local character in our village called ‘Ted the bike” who was slightly eccentric. He used to collect cans from all over the place and then line them all up in the road so that cars would squash them flat. Once flat he would run out from behind a hedge and fill a bag. It was quite alarming and the local police had a word with him. After that he found other means to carry out his recycling hobby.
So recycling has been around a long time and it’s very quick and easy now. There’s hardly anything in our black bin. However our two blue recycling wheelie bins are full to the brim! That got me thinking. Have I just been totally oblivious to what we were using simply because I had ticked the “recycling” box. I thought I was doing my bit, but was that really helping? Where does all the stuff go? Is it out of sight, out of mind?
Friends came to stay last week and we were discussing the shift change towards the environment and they made a great comment. When you throw something away, it doesn’t actually go “away.” There is no “away.” It just goes somewhere else which is blindingly obvious really. I suddenly had a vision of every biro that had ever been made in a giant pile. It was a grim thought.
Another friend of mine once said to me that she would start recycling when Port Talbot switched off their furnaces and I totally get it. It’s hard to imagine your family embracing bamboo toothbrushes as an environmentally friendly gesture having a net effect whilst industrial plants are belching toxins around the clock.
However, small changes that take flight across the masses are powerful. The strength of mankind lies entirely as a collective. Otherwise we are a fairly puny and unimpressive mammal, but look at what has been achieved (good or bad) when we work together. A lot of our day to day choices are governed by our habits and a change in collective habits add up. After all we now take for granted all the conveniences our plastic wrapped consumables offer us. We purchase without thinking, overeat, throw away, bleach and shampoo without giving it a second thought. Habitually, endlessly. What if we did all suddenly decide not to use, for example, store bought coffee in throw away cups? What if our reusable keep cups became as normal as carrying a mobile phone. What if we didn’t leave the house without one. Over two billion coffee cups are used and thrown away in the UK alone every year (source: House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee). So if we all changed this habit of drinking coffee in throw away cups, it would make a sizeable difference.
So what could we do that would make a difference to our own family habits? I started to investigate every idea posted my way. The more I looked, the more I was sent and as my feeds filled up with environmentally conscious products and information I can feel new habits of my own developing. Before I make decisions now about what to consume I stop and think do I really need that. I’ve started to watch what is going in our recycling bins to see where all our waste is coming from.
I broke down our family routines into product groups and then looked at how we could tackle each one. Broadly speaking like everyone else we have:
- What we eat
- Cleaning products
- Grooming products (sounds like a horse, but you know what I mean)!
What we drive will have to wait, unless we win the lottery! But joking aside what we drive will get changed at some point and for the better. There will be more changes that we can make as we deconstruct our consumer habits but those are the three categories I started mulling over. You have to start somewhere.
Starting with what we eat, we have done the obvious, much to my husband’s misery and whining, we have reduced the amount of meat and food in general. He has nonetheless agreed on many meal times that the veggies I’m feeding him are tasty so it’s not that bad. Then because I was overwhelmed with how much packaging we were getting through in general in terms of food from the supermarket, I’ve started leaning more heavily on Riverford. I’ve shopped with Riverford for well over a decade and love their veg boxes. So this week for the first time I added a meat box too. Just a little one and was pleased to see that all the boxed packaging can be given back to them to use again. So now I have lovely veg and a small amount of meat from Riverford tucked away in the fridge ready to use. Yes it is more expensive than the supermarket, but if overall I am buying less, then I hope it will even out.
There are some things that I’ve spotted that just don’t fit our budget. So compostable coffee pods at a quid each and toilet rolls at a quid each are beyond my reach, but I am going to switch to a Bialetti stove top coffee maker and ditch the pods. The loo roll is still a problem, but we shall see what happens in that space. I’m still trying to persuade the kids not to “TP” the house with it!
So over to cleaning products: I kept spotting Iron and Velvet via different social media feeds. They provide water soluble cleaning sachets. So you mix your own cleaning solution at home in your own reusable bottles rather than buying single use plastic bottles over and over again. The sachets arrive in the post in a teeny little cardboard box. This was hugely appealing and the kids and I had great fun watching the sachets swirling around and dissolving. We have antibacterial bathroom spray (thank goodness, my son is potty training right now, so we are grateful for that). Then we also have antibacterial kitchen spray and floor cleaner. All three work well and smell amazing. So there is a whole set of throw away plastic bottles we can remove from the house and they have other options I haven’t tried yet such as glass cleaner.
My next bugbear was grooming products. The obvious offenders were shampoos, conditioners and shower gels. The bathroom can be littered with a mind boggling amount of plastic bottles for a family of four. However my husband has always used bars of soap, so the kids and I followed suit. That was an easy swap. Next I thought I’ll get rid of the shampoo and conditioner so I tried out a shampoo bar called Foamie, which is available from Ocado where we do most of our household shopping. I know I’m not the most impeccably groomed lady out there. I could definitely be accused of skipping the odd shower in favour of an early morning hack on my horse, but the shampoo bar is really brilliant. I can’t tell the difference between using that and using traditional bottles of shampoo and conditioner. My hair looks pretty good (I feel like Ron Burgundy for saying that, but in general it looks nice and not like straw) and smells lovely. The bar is hanging up by its little rope in the bathroom making the whole room smell lovely too.
So these few tiny changes have changed my habits enough to make me think differently, shop differently and behave differently. I feel happier, more organised and less wasteful. I haven’t even done very much. So now the game is on! What more can I do?…