I am an activist!

So I may or may not have joined Greenpeace. This statement isn’t supposed to be cryptic, I’m honestly not sure. I do give them a fiver every month and on Saturday I joined them for some protesting so if I’m not officially a member I’m certainly floating around the periphery.

The backstory is that Saturday was the Greenpeace Shopper’s revolt, whereby Greenpeace were encouraging people to remove any unnecessary plastic from their purchased goods, specifically the fruit and veg, leave the packaging behind along with a “calling card” we supplied them, stating they were unhappy with the excessive use of plastic packaging in use in Supermarkets today. We then gave them some paper bags to pop their fruit and veg back into if they so desired. More info here.

I was actually pretty nervous about the whole thing. Having never involved myself in something like this before and not knowing who I was going to be volunteering with, a million thoughts crossed my mind. There was the fear that they’d all be crusty hippies and I’d feel completely out of place. The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. The volunteers came in all shapes and sizes, ages and sexes and it was very heartening (and quite the relief to see).

There are also the other concerns you need to think about when you’re meeting a group from Greenpeace, the conspicuous stuff like ensuring I cycled. I would have anyway, it wasn’t far and the weather was nice enough. I was however running a little late (no surprises there) but decided late on a bike was a far more appealing volunteer than punctual in a car. I had done the park run that morning and hadn’t had time to change so rocked up in my (smelly) running gear, which is made from synthetic material, that I have recently learned releases plastic microfibers into the water during a wash. Was totally paranoid about this but a few of the other protesters looked like they’d also just come from a run so I was not out of place. I also had a mind that I might want to grab a coffee at some point so ensured I had my reusable coffee cup with me. What I didn’t remember, which was far more essential was my water bottle. I obviously couldn’t be seen to be buying a bottle of water while on Greenpeace duty (although it’s unlikely I would have anyway) so ended my few hours of activism parched!

The morning itself went well enough. There were about 16-20 of us there which was great. Even with the numbers it’s not easy to get shoppers to stop and talk to you. Some ran right by but others stopped and took a real interest and voiced their concerns to us before heading into Asda to make their point. My strategy was to target families and hand out the paper bags to the kids. I reasoned they were the masters of pester power, were possibly learning about the plastic problem in school anyway and liked being given free stuff.  It sort of worked. Interestingly, on a few occasions we needed the kids to translate our message to their parents as they had the better English.

I think younger people were generally more receptive. One girl already had her Tupperware with her for her meat/fish counter purchases so was immediately on board. A guy, who couldn’t have been more than 16, was enthusiastic but really nervous about acting on it. He came back out after his shop and admitted he didn’t do it. I thought he was so sweet. Most people wouldn’t return to tell you, they just would have headed off home. Hopefully some day he’ll feel a little braver! On the flip side, there was the old lady I helped with her trolley because it got stuck. I pretty much lifted the damn thing back into the shops for her when the anti-theft mechanism kicked in. I then asked her to do me a little favour too and before I even finished my sentence she flat out said no chance (or something similar) and walked off. Nice.

We also had a visit from the manager. I thought it was all going to kick off but he was actually really receptive to what we were doing and said if we could ask people to remove the packaging away from the till so as not to hold up other shoppers he was fine for us to continue.

So all in all it was a pretty good day. I finished my volunteering off with a spot of shopping, ensuring I removed my plastic packaging. I actually felt pretty guilty for not going to my greengrocers, where I wouldn’t have had half as much plastic to leave behind but I suppose it was all about making the point.

C x

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Some swaps…

Hello friends,

Hope you’re all well today. I thought I’d do a quick super long post to update you all on some of the swaps I’ve been making in an effort to shop a little more ethically. Not all are the perfect solution but I’m working on getting to a better place!

You all know about our milkman from Morton’s Dairies (if you don’t, click here) and that’s working out well. We get our milk delivered three times a week and it’s great. I remembered a friend saying that for some inexplicable reason, skimmed milk works really well in the coffee frother we both have so I’ve started using that and my cappuccinos are back on point.

The milkman also delivers orange juice in glass bottles. We rarely drink the stuff, but had visitors a few weeks back so I added some to our Saturday delivery. To be honest, the quality was pretty crap so I probably won’t buy it again. Need to seek out a better option for Christmas.

One of the biggest changes we have made is that we have started to buy the majority of our fruit and veg from our local green grocers.

In doing so we are not only supporting local business but have also managed to significantly reduce the amount of plastic packaging we bring home. Unfortunately our berries and baby spinach still come wrapped in plastic and I haven’t really found much of an alternative.

I have half a mind to start growing things like lettuce, spinach and berries, but my gardening skills and enthusiasm aren’t really up to much so I’ll have to psyche myself up for that and prepare well.

Next door to the greengrocers is our local butchers. I went in looking for free range chicken only to find that they have made the decision not to stock it but to sell British Farm Assured chicken instead. I’m still trying to fully understand what that means. What the butcher explained to me was that Free Range Chicken was more likely to have had antibiotics pumped into it but it was also more likely to have had a nice life. A quick google hasn’t helped much as I keep finding articles about the “Red Tractor” logo. If the butcher’s chicken is simple “red tractor” chicken I think I’ll be giving it a miss in future as it sounds like those poor animals have a pretty miserable life.

As an alternative, I’ve been doing some online grocery shopping with Ocado (perhaps a topic for another post as I feel like I need to look into the ethics of having your groceries delivered) and they stock a huge amount of Waitrose products. As far as the animals go, Waitrose seem to be the more compassionate of the supermarkets so I’m also still buying some of my meat from them, particularly if it’s on offer. Problem is, it’s wrapped in plastic whereas I can bring my own containers to the butchers (which I clearly didn’t in the pic above, which was taken on my first visit). I’m not giving up meat again any time soon so I really need to do my research and think all the options through. Today’s delivery consisted of some half price organic free range chicken & outdoor reared pork sausages. Hopefully the animals had a nice life before they ended up in my shopping bag.

There’s also a fish shop along the same side of the street as the two above. So far it seems ok, but expensive, and doesn’t have quite the selection I would have hoped for. In fairness though, as long as it stocks salmon we’re usually good to go.

We’ve made a decision for the moment to only buy Barilla pasta as it’t the only brand we can find that comes in cardboard packaging.

There is a small plastic film on the cardboard that has to be removed and put in the general waste but at least the rest of the packaging is recyclable. Again, it’s a bit more expensive than the “own brand” stuff we usually buy but it’s on offer at the moment so I’m stocking up! The ideal scenario here would be that I find a shop that sells pasta from great big vats so I can just go in, stock up and pop it straight into one of my own containers. I have discovered a few but they’re not super close to me. If I find myself with a big pantry stock up to do, I may try to have Plastic Free Pantry deliver me some supplies, but I feel I need to order more than a bit of fusilli to make it worth my while.

We’re about to try a new (to us) coffee that is made by Union Coffee. Again it’s a bit more expensive than our usual Lavazza so it would want to be amazing. They do seem to care about their farmers though so there’s another point in their favour. I initially thought it was packaged in paper but it’s not recyclable so I assume it’s lined with something to keep the beans fresh.

There is also a lovely roasterie/coffee shop called 92 Degrees near work that’s independently owned and sells its own beans (not sure in what kind of packaging). Could be another good option but again, pricey. Will give them a go also and see how we feel.  I think it’s going to be tough to find coffee that is packaged ethically, although from memory, Illy coffee comes in tins and is delicious but super expensive.

We’ve got two different loo papers on the go at the moment. A Waitrose eco-friendly one that is made from 100% recycled paper, but is wrapped in plastic, and our Who Gives a Crap free sample, that is also made form recycled paper, but packed in paper too and donates half its profits to help build loos for those in need. See more here.

It all sounds super fantastic but it’s not cheap so I’m currently weighing up the options before I commit to them. Both brands also do kitchen paper so we’ve got the Waitrose ones in the kitchen currently but may consider the others, depending on price.

We’re also gradually switching some of our cleaning products over to the Ecover brand.

I think it’s a step in the right direction but ultimately I feel there must be a better answer to the washing up liquid/laundry detergent plastic container conundrum.

Finally, I’ve just received a delivery of some of Baby Spice’s Kit and Kin eco nappies. (again on offer as they too are more expensive than regulars – do you notice a pattern?).

They purport to be partially biodegradable better for the environment and better for baby than the regular disposables. I’ve also tried the new Pampers Pure Protection nappies that seem to have been made with stuff that is far more bum and environmentally friendly but not biodegradable.

I’m under no illusions that either are a better choice than reusables. When Luca was tiny I did give cloth nappies a go and I lasted 10 days. When you have a baby who roars crying every time you change his nappy (in fairness, he cried pretty much all the time anyway – thank god those days have passed!), you’re more interested in something you have to change less frequently rather than more. I felt like I was constantly changing soaking wet nappies. He always seemed to leak like crazy so I was also having to do a full costume change a few times a day (which really didn’t help the crying baby situation) and in the end I just gave up on them. They have since been donated and I never want to see them again.  I do still have a supply of cloth baby wipes from Cheeky Wipes that I got out of the habit of using, mostly due to laziness, so they will be making a reappearance as soon as our current stock of environmentally unfriendly wipes have been mostly depleted.

So I think that’s mostly it for now. Sorry the post was so long! As you can see, we’ve made quite the few swaps but I do worry that the costs associated are about to spiral. When it’s a few pence here and there it’s not too noticeable but it all does add up and we’re certainly not growing money trees in our back garden (I can’t even grow spinach remember). I think I might start a spreadsheet of costs so I can keep track and I’ll share some of my findings.

See you all soon x

PS – I’m an idiot. I impulse bought some potato cakes because they were on offer (I buy a lot of things on offer!) and clearly they were going to arrive wrapped in plastic. I had just spent ages painstakingly going through my shopping looking for the “goodest” alternative and fell at the final “flash sale” hurdle. Well done Cathy.

PPS – Ocado why do you wrap your magazine in plastic? And are all the bags really necessary? I know you are super proud that you recycle them but would it not be better to eliminate them altogether?

The Italian Job…

So I’m just back from a week in Italy visiting the in-laws and have found their (Italians generally not my in-laws specifically) relationship with plastic and sustainability quite interesting…

In some ways Italian laws, relating to plastic, are more progressive than those in the U.K. or Ireland. Plastic bags were banned back in 2010 so supermarkets now provide degradable bags to their customers. Earlier this year, smaller plastic bags for fruit and veg were also banned, so again, Italians are now using the degradable version. The problem seems to be, that they are required to use said bags, and the option of bringing in your own reusable bag for your produce doesn’t seem to be available to Italian shoppers. More information here.

My father in law pointed out that it was also a requirement to use these bags, so you can’t just weigh your fruit bagless and carry on shopping (which I often do in my local Tesco). It seems such a shame. When you first walk into an Italian supermarket, it’s so heartening to see all the loose fruits and veg out for you to choose from but sadly it then ends up in a bag anyway.

The argument against degradable bags is that by the time one of them actually starts to break down, some poor sea creature could already have eaten it and perished. In addition, it just perpetuates our reliance on convenience and as this interesting guardian article points out, until we change our habits and cease to become such a throwaway society, we’re never really going to solve anything. (It also states that we really shouldn’t be eating prawns or drinking almond milk, but that’s a post for another day.) As a result, it’s rare to see an Italian bring their own bags to the supermarket (in my experience, perhaps elsewhere in Italia things are different) and everything ends up in one of the non-plastic bags, even the bread we ought from the bakery that that was first put in a brown paper bag. After that incident I spent the rest of the week jumping in front of my father in law at the supermarket to put our groceries in one of my cotton bags that I happened to have brought from home.

One of the other areas where I really notice a heavy reliance on plastic in Italy surrounds the daily espresso ritual.

For the most part your espresso (or in my case a Macchiato)  will come in a lovely little cup (unlike the ones above) and I have to say I feel gloriously Mediterranean sipping away on my tiny Italian coffee.  Every mini coffee in Italy is however served with a glass of water, which, for the most part comes in a disposable plastic cup. Hearteningly the one below did not!

They’re quite the norm in cafes and some restaurants and many homes will also have a supply on hand for convenience. Once or twice I found myself swiping a few off the dinner table and replacing them with the glasses that had been inconveniently stored an extra foot away in the cupboard or placed in the dishwasher.

On the flip side, being Italy, a decorative water fountain is often on hand to assist a thirsty Signor or Signora and we quite happily refilled our water bottle at one in beautiful Amalfi last week. Made me feel a little less guilty about having the plastic bottle in the first place. I brought Luca’s reusable water bottle to Italy (which I have since lost!) but forgot my own, which is unlike me but that’s what happens when you pack without a list.

Aside from the above, there were a few more plastic incidences that would be perfectly familiar to most of you. Davide stopped to purchase a lemon granita and typically it came in a plastic cup with a plastic straw and spoon. What bothered me most about the whole granita situation was that it wasn’t even particularly nice so we wasted a load of plastic for nothing.

I also wasn’t expecting my Aperol Spritz to arrive with a straw so didn’t think to ask for it without. Clearly I need to get better at requesting straw free drinks.

I guess the three examples above are of me just being a bit thick or unprepared. Davide could have skipped the granita (and he probs my will next time!), I should have thought to bring my water bottle to Italy and I should have thought to request my drink without the straw. Clearly I have a long way to go on my plastic reduction journey!

My final Italian environmental point of interest is this sign I spotted in the airport loo as we were preparing to board our flight home.

It definitely made me think. Especially about my monthly sanitary needs. Will be exploring some alternatives in due course.

Ciao for now my friends,

C x

Some direction – maybe…

Hi folks,

So I’m still trying to figure out this “being more sustainable” business. I ticked the milkman box and we now have our couple of pints delivered three times a week.

For those in the house who love a glass of fresh milk straight from the fridge (not me), the delivered stuff in bottles seems to be a winner. For the most part, I use milk to make an afternoon cappuccino and unfortunately, for some reason, this bottled stuff doesn’t froth half as well as the plastic packaged equivalent. I think it’s because the cream separates from the rest of the milk and that affects the frothing capacity. I do however love to see that lovely creamy head on the milk when I pick the bottle up from the doorstep in the morning. A certain little someone is also a fan…

I think after organising the milkman I felt a bit lost, in that I didn’t know what changes to make next. Everywhere I look in my house and beyond I identify issues with a product’s packaging or just general existence. So over time, as we use up certain items I’ll switch from handwash and shower gel back to a regular bar of soap. I’ve seen toothpastes and all sorts of other exiting plastic free packaged products here  that I want to try and also identified a website here that will deliver pantry goods minus any plastic packaging.

The problem is, I’m pretty well stocked for toiletries at the moment so am playing a bit of a waiting game on that front. Also, some of the stuff is seriously pricey, which has to be a consideration as I haven’t won the lotto recently.

I’m very excited about this insect repellant though and may have to invest in some before our Italy trip in a few weeks. Mozzies love me and I always come back from sunnier climates savaged, so if this stuff works it will be well worth the investment.

One thing I do plan to do this weekend is shop local. We have a greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers very close to home and there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get a large chunk of my weekly shop done there. I’ll be benefiting local businesses and I hope by buying my fruit and veg in the greengrocers that I’ll be able to find a wider selection of produce that isn’t pre-packaged in plastic.

I have heard that in Morrisons you can have the butcher put your meat in your own container rather than them wrapping it up in plastic bags for you so I might suss out this guy down the road and see if he and the fish people could do something similar. Then I just have to sort out my containers – almost all plastic tupperware, which I believe is not only very environmentally un-friendly but also not very good for us either.

So I know I’m rambling a bit here and if all these words are making your head hurt, imagine how my brain feels right now. For that reason I want to add a little structure to my quest. I have a few books based around sustainable living, ethical shopping and going plastic free so I feel if I start to work my way through those, educate myself chapter by chapter and then implement my learnings, then I might not feel so higgldy piggldy.

Anyway, watch this space folks and hopefully there will be a little more structure to my ramblings next time.

PS I also need to come clean. I meant to bring my reusable cup into work yesterday to give to the Starbucks lady but I completely forgot it and was gasping for an afternoon coffee so bought one in a disposable cup. I now feel super guilty.

Clink clink – Milkman Sorted!

I had the fear the other day that I was going to fail day 1 task 1, thereby setting a terrible precedent, but I am pleased to report I have signed up with a local milkman and there should be two pints of glass bottled, fresh, full fat milk on my doorstep in the morning. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan.

I’ve been feeling generally guilty again lately. We got a takeaway the other night and it was only when it arrived in all it’s separate polystyrene, plastic and cardboard boxes that I realised what a bad idea it was (even though I was exhausted and couldn’t face cooking, thanks to a teething toddler). Most of the packaging had to be chucked in the bin. I ripped the plastic film off the cardboard boxes, cleaned them and put them in the recycling but I’m really not convinced it’s recyclable. What do you think?

I was also at the beauticians the other day (I will worry about the environmental effects of my beauty routine at a later date – one step at a time!) and when I responded to her query as to whether I’d like a drink with, “water please” she handed me a plastic single use bottle. I took it off her but know that I should have asked for a glass of tap water instead. I’m not one who likes to rock the boat, so I kept my mouth shut this time, but know in future, if I’m going to behave in a more sustainable manner, it’s going to have to result in a little awkwardness now and again and have a knock on effect on other people. Or else I’ll just bring my own reusable water bottle!

The big shop was delivered this morning. I need to find out whether it’s more environmentally friendly to have your shopping delivered or to physically go to the shops yourself. I think some would say delivery is the way to go, but if I’m in the supermarket and choosing my own fruit and veg I have more control over how much plastic my produce is packaged in. Anyway, the noteworthy aspect regarding this week’s shop is this toothbrush…

It’s made from cornstarch (or cornflour if we’re in the UK or Ireland) and, unlike the majority of toothbrushes claims to be biodegradable. So this is all kinds of fabulous and if we turn a blind eye to the plastic element of the packaging, far more environmentally friendly than your average toothbrush. However, at £3.99 it’s also twice the price, which is a bit steep for a toothbrush for a 1 year old, who will probably just suck the toothpaste off it. I always suspected that my sustainability efforts were going to cost me, but I can’t justify doubling the price of my whole weekly shop. In any event, this fabulous cornstartch toothbrush was on offer so I got two for £6 and was better able to rationalise the purchase.

Also, if we’re keeping count, a pint bottle of delivered milk is 74p, the equivalent in a plastic container is around 50p or less. Obviously if you buy a big carton containing more milk the price per pint also reduces. I’m having 6 pints delivered weekly so it’s costing me a minimum of £1.50 more per week to switch to glass bottles.

Anyhoo, I best dash, we have another trip to make to the recycling centre – our new favourite place.

We’ve been there about 4 times since we moved last week, offloading cardboard boxes and whatnot. Housemoving is definitely not a friend of the environment.

It starts tomorrow!

Hello friends!

So lately I’ve been suffering from serious cases of the guilts every time I throw something away, buy items wrapped in plastic or knowingly engage in unsustainable behaviour. I’ve recently moved to a new city, so as part of my “new life” I want to do my best to green my lifestyle and that of my family’s. I plan to start by making little changes here and there, which will hopefully add up and result in the three of us living more thoughtfully and sustainably. I have some ideas of the changes I wish to make, but over time I know I’ll have to educate myself and really learn about the effects my various actions have on the environment.

I’m under no illusion that the journey is going to be easy. I expect to struggle in my quest to adopt more green and sustainable habits and actions. There’s this thing called “the attitude-behaviour gap” that is discussed a lot in the sustainability literature. In a nutshell, many people have a positive attitude towards the environment and sustainability but their actions or behaviour don’t necessarily mirror this attitude. I guess I am one of those people. I’m full of great intentions but not so fantastic on the follow through. Perhaps it’s because it involves more effort or cost on my part and as a working mum of a very busy toddler, I don’t have a tonne of free time, money or energy to dedicate to living greener and saving the planet. I do want to try though.

So as of tomorrow I will try to live more thoughtfully and sustainably and make a note of my progress here. My first mission is to find myself a local dairy here in Liverpool that will deliver milk in glass bottles to my door a few times a week. Watch this space!