2020: Happy New Year! A new decade, a new era…the rise of Skywalker (don’t worry, no plot spoilers here)…and with Greta Thunberg’s impassioned pleas ringing in the new year, maybe it’s the one when we can all help the planet that little bit more.
Every January I share about #smallchanges we can make to live a little greener. I know that previous blogs have inspired readers to make some significant life changes so that’s reason enough for me to continue. For 2020, I’ve reprised last year’s article and added our new changes in red.
All these tips are geared for busy people – easy, affordable and sustainable. Even if you only do one thing, every little helps.
Consuming less meat and dairy is the single biggest way to help the planet. We were already cutting down through 2018, but this March, my 9-year-old, Luc, decided he wanted to go vegetarian ‘because of the animals’. I went veggie in my teens for the same reason (and was for 21 years), so I didn’t bat an eyelid – and actually found it much easier this time around with all the options – even some my carnivorous 7-year-old, Leon, would eat.
- Tivall soy hotdogs – Thaw and heat through in boiling water – serve with ketchup in a bun, or chop into a tomato pasta sauce. Can’t tell the difference.
- Cauldron sausages – we love the Rosemary & Black Pepper ones: luscious, flavoursome and ‘meaty’ – and prefer these to meat now. Only Leon won’t eat them, so I buy Heck chicken sausages for him.
- For my (completely inauthentic but veg-packed and totally yummy!) vegetarian spaghetti bolognese, I sauté a finely-chopped leek, grate in a large carrot, courgette and 250g mushrooms, stir to soften. Add a pack of VIVERA Soya Mince. I then add flavour, depth and colour with garlic, vegetable Bouillon powder, ketchup, tomato purée, Worcester sauce (I know, not strictly veggie), balsamic glaze, Marmite (secret ingredient!), red wine, chocolate and seasoning. Add 2 tins of kidney beans in chilli sauce to the same base for a Mexican chilli and serve with rice, tacos, guacamole, grated cheese, shredded lettuce and 0% Skyr yoghurt (instead of sour cream).
I try and buy seasonally and I choose the ‘wonky veg’ options from Ocado to reduce food waste.
I switched some brands because they have less packaging (e.g. Kerrygold butter with a recyclable paper wrapper instead of plastic tubs. Kept in an insulated butter dish so it’s always spreadable. Oxo cubes have no plastic, minimal and recyclable packaging).
We recycle all paper/card, plastics, aluminium and fabrics, and food waste goes into our green bin. As a family of four we generate only a shopping bag of rubbish a week.
This October, my husband decided to go ‘plant-based’ after watching The Game Changers. So I added loads of vegan milk, cheese and yoghurt alternatives to our weekly shop. Andy liked them, but the boys and I, not so much. Still, a lot of our dishes went vegan.
Pluses: He took up more of the cooking. Also, within 6 weeks, Andy & I lost nearly 2 stone!
Minuses: I felt hungry. A lot. I don’t like most dairy alternatives, so stuck to proper cheese, but ate a lot less of it. Don’t believe the hype though; Jack fruit is nothing like pulled pork.
A few winning vegan slow-cooker recipes:
- A fab Jambalaya
- Quinoa chilli and
- Veggie stew (we put more spice/flavour than suggested). The only downside is I was hungry again an hour or two later as this one has no protein, so I’d add butter beans.
And this breakfast burrito has become a weekend after-gym treat. It uses tofu and hummus to mimic scrambled eggs and I defy anyone to tell the difference!
As I said, I’m not a massive fan of vegan dairy alternatives, but I’ll keep trying the ones I buy for Andy. These ones are not too bad:
- Smoked Gouda Style slices in sandwiches and with pickles, not a bad smoky, mild cheddar substitute.
- Nush almond milk chive-flavoured cream cheese. Kind of like Philadephia!
- Oatly Barista is apparently the only milk substitute to have in your coffee/tea as it tastes nice and doesn’t separate.
I’m afraid I caved completely at the thought of a plant-based Christmas so we went all out and had oysters, pigs-in-blankets, giant prawns and an organic duck. I decided that rather than feel deprived or guilty, a bit of great quality meat occasionally is OK. I’m vegetarian 95% of the time and vegan maybe 75% of the time. The boys are happily flexitarian (they still love a burger when we go out! Although OMG, do try the Honest ‘Plant’ Burger– it’s AMAZING. I thought they’d given me a meat one by mistake!!!) and hubby is mainly plant-based, so we’re all eating more mindfully and doing our bit.
- Milk & More deliver our milk, apple and orange juice in reusable glass bottles. For ages they didn’t do dairy-free ‘milk’ in glass bottles (and other sites were very pricey) but this January we finally started getting M’lkman Oat milk delivered too!
- Recycling tin foil: I’d been happily tossing sweet wrappers or lids for milk bottles in the recycling for years, but this year found out that the recycling ‘grabbers’ can’t pick up foil smaller than a tennis ball. So we now save our foil (clean) and once we’ve reused larger pieces a few times, ball them up with smaller pieces inside.
- We use reusable metal bottles for our water, healthier than plastic ones which can leach BPAs and harbour bacteria.
- We LOVE our Contigo cups. Spill-proof in your bag, on your desk, or around children. Drinks stay hot for hours and we save a fortune!
- Tea: Looseleaf ended up being an #ecofail for me, I just couldn’t be a*sed with the faff, to be honest. So I’m still waiting for a plastic-free decaffeinated tea teabag. In the meantime, here’s the info on how much plastic is in your tea brand.
- Coffee: instead of using wasteful pods, Andy buys sacks of beans and grinds his own.
- We love our SodaStream with its glass bottle – plastic-free sparkling water on tap and healthy fizzy drinks (apple or orange juice, diluted) for the kids.
- Did you know that paper straws take eight times more resource to make (trees, water and energy) than plastic?! Ditch them and buy stainless steel or glass ones if you need to.
- Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up transformed our lives. We got rid of things that didn’t ‘spark joy’ and ended up with an organised, uncluttered home, despite kids. Don’t underestimate the extra headspace, time and calm this gives you – I’m sure it helped me write my book. Having less means we buy less because we know what we’ve got and how little we need. What we do buy is now more considered, more beautiful, higher-quality and longer-lasting.
- I keep cotton shopping bags in our car, by our coats and in my rucksack or laptop bag so now we are rarely caught out needing to buy a plastic bag. If you do have some though, Ocado will pay you 5p per bag (any brand) to recycle them.
- We often ask for ‘experiences‘ for the kids off the grandparents. No clutter, just great memories.
- Andy and also I tend to gift each other tickets to events, memberships and meals out instead of more ‘stuff’. Last year I got an V&A membership, this year I got him a knife-skills course and he got me a Ticketmaster voucher for gig tickets.
- Amongst my older boy’s friends, we now tend to gift Amazon vouchers so they can put it towards a bigger present, like a computer game or football kit, rather than boxes and boxes of soon-discarded plastic.
- Last Christmas, my family did a Secret Santa so each adult only needed to buy one present for another adult. This year, we all agreed to not bother for the adults and just buy for the kids. Not ‘Bah Humbug’ at all – actually, totally liberating! We just focused on spending quality time with loved ones and Christmas felt less stressy as a result.
- Shiny, metallic or glittery, sparkly papers don’t recycle. I use plain-coloured or brown paper and traditional parcel tags with string. If you want to decorate the paper, stamping inks recycle but poster paint doesn’t.
- I worked out how much we spent on Christmas cards and postage just for our friends and family and it was a bit silly! So this year, I spent a similar amount on a few beds and meals to Crisis at Christmas instead. Thanks to the support from our clients in 2019 we were also able to gift 32 meals and 10 beds for the homeless through Crisis and Centrepoint on their behalf.
- Rather than buy each child a throwaway present at Christmas each, Luc’s teacher gave the class the choice of a charitable donation – they decided to adopt a panda as a class, and each got a certificate.
- Next year, Luc, bless him, has said he’d like his friends to donate towards a charity of his choice, which is so heartwarming.
I was horrified to read recently that a lot of retailers (yes, even designer brands) send returned goods to landfill, So in 2020, I am going to make more effort to not shop online for clothes. A tough one as two kids and a business means I rarely get time to shop IRL!
Did you know that up to 95% of fabrics that go into landfill could be either re-worn or recycled? We reuse or recycle all of ours:
- Take any old bras to Bravissimo – they ship the reusable ones to women in developing countries, others get broken up and recycled and they make a donation to charity.
- You can use old garments as cleaning rags or use nicer fabrics to wrap presents, Japanese-style.
- Take all unusable, worn, holey fabrics (even socks, tights, pants…) to H&M for recycling and you get a £5 voucher per shopping bag. Yes, they are responsible for a lot of fast fashion, but for my fast-growing boys it makes financial sense to shop there.
- Outgrown clothes get passed down – at least 4-5 kids in our family get to wear them now! We also pass on outgrown toys and books to their school, charity shops or sell them (the cash incentive helps the boys ditch more!)
- I get too overwhelmed in second-hand stores – but I’m a convert to eBay – and it feels great to buy ‘greener’. I also used to buy 0-4 yr clothes and toys – often unused – from our NCT Nearly New Sales.
- Host a ‘Swish’ party. My friends and I used to do these: bring a bottle for a fun night, a free wardrobe boost and leftovers go to charity. I’ve recently seen similar clothes-swap events being organised for kids’ clothes too!
- Last year, Andy & I both had a stylist do our ‘colours’ and a wardrobe edit. We shop a lot less now but it saves us time and costly mistakes when we do. I actually wear more of my wardrobe now because I can find everything and am rediscovering and restyling old faves.
- I found a great local seamstress, Larysa, who also breathed new life into old existing pieces and tailors high-street finds to look bespoke. Best investment ever!
- Moth attack? Put any damaged garments in sealed food bags and freeze for 24 hours to kill off any larvae before putting them in your fabric recycling. Wash the rest with a cup of vinegar to kill them off. Mothballs are highly toxic to the environment but moths also avoid a lot of natural essential oils and spices. Bonus – your cupboards smell delicious!
- I have a Kindle but stopped reading as much this year to write my own book (Coming soon!). However, I also like listening to audiobooks and TEDtalks in the shower. I still like having books in the house, so we kept our favourites and charity-shopped a load more.
- Charity-shop or Music Magpie your CDs and DVDs in favour of streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix.
- The British Heart Foundation will collect your old furniture for free and you can donate your old working electrical goods too.
- Batteries: We’ve been using rechargeables for nearly a decade now. They cost more to buy but we just replaced our disposable ones as and when they ran out. We have a Universal battery charger and keep spares ready-charged. Some of the older rechargeables have started to not hold charge now, so we take these and any disposables to our local Sainsbury’s battery-recycling bin.
- A Smart Meter displayed how much energy we were using e.g. when putting the tumble drier on. It shocked me into buying a retractable double washing line and (recyclable) pegs.!
- We installed energy-saving LED Hue lighting through most of our home, with motion sensors in the garden, hallways, bathroom and understairs cupboard. They do need some outlay and set-up, but they’ve stopped me huffing at my family for leaving lights on! They’re also great if the kids get up at night – the lights can be set dim so as not to wake them up too much. We can even control them from our phones when we’re away (the lights, not the kids, sadly).
- Our Nest thermostat also smartly regulates our heating via an app, so when we are out of the house it turns the heating down.
- All the above halved our energy bills in a year ...and we look set to make more savings in 2020 now we’ve switched to Octopus renewable energy. If you want £50 of carbon-offset energy (for you and me!) click this link here.
Microfibre cloths although synthetic, rate really well from an eco-friendly perspective. They wash well, last for years, are super absorbent so we need little cleaning product or kitchen roll. These glass cloths polish mirrors/windows with only water too.
I make all my own vinegar-based cleaning products – it’s so easy, fast and cheap! I buy 5l bottles of white wine vinegar and reuse old spray bottles. I’ve spent about £30 on cleaning stuff this year and the house sparkles. My cleaner is a convert and even carries her own vinegar now to shine her other clients’ taps. If they have a tricky cleaning problem, she says her husband now asks “What would Sapna do?” which I find hilarious!
I’d always worried about the smell, but it fades as it dries. If you’re really nervous, you can scent it with lemons (I don’t bother any more). Cut any squeezed lemons into wedges and push them into the vinegar bottle. Just keep adding over time. BONUS: Prise them out when the vinegar is done and you have preserved lemons! Chop them up and use them in couscous salads, chicken or fish dishes. Zero-waste and deeeeelicious.
Cleaning product recipes…
- For burnt-on pans/kettles/toasters, ovens and tough stains: Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. This works better than a highly toxic oven cleaner I once bought years ago and couldn’t inhale or allow to touch my skin. Mix into a paste, rub on, leave for a bit, use elbow grease, wipe/rinse. Or make a more liquid mix and let it fizz away. Easier still: I burnt a pan and just put water and vinegar in immediately. After a few minutes, the gunk just lifted off with a gentle scrape and my pan’s shinier than ever. Magic!
- All-purpose cleaner: for tiles, sinks, glass, mirrors and worktops (not granite): 50/50 vinegar/water and a good ‘squidge’ of classic Fairy liquid in a bottle. Tip gently back and forth to mix.
- Granite or marble: a drizzle of washing up liquid and a hot damp microfibre cloth. Wipe, rinse, squeeze, repeat. Lift any stains with a gentle paste of bicarb and water. Don’t use anything acidic on these surfaces.
- Magical limescale remover (bathrooms, tiles, taps): 50/50 vinegar and classic Fairy. Warm the vinegar to combine it more easily and tip bottle gently back and forth to mix. Spray on, leave overnight. Rinse and scrub taps with an old toothbrush or wipe off surfaces. Gasp at the shine.
- Toilet bowl descaler: For the scale at the bottom of the loo: use a loo brush (this is the best and most hygenic I’ve found) to push as much water as you can down the U-bend. Boil 1-2 inches of vinegar in a kettle (cleans the kettle too!), pour down the loo, close the lid. Leave for a few hours, or overnight if you can. Scrub – the scale will just lift off. Repeat if needed. For under the rim, use the magical limescale remover above.
- Drains: Commercial drain cleaners are so toxic to our waterways! De-clog smelly drains with dry bicarb down the plughole, pour vinegar over it to make it fizz. Leave 1/2 hr and pour a kettle of boiled water down to flush everything away. Repeat if needed.
- Furniture polish: 50% olive oil, 40% water, 10% vinegar. Shake well before use. Store in a cool, dark cupboard. Add a few drops of orange oil or similar if you want it scented.
- Floors: for tiles, linoleum, sealed wooden floorboards and laminate. Fill a mop bucket with hot water, add a bit of Fairy and a glug of vinegar. Cuts through grease, dirt and germs. Wring the mop as dry as possible on the final wipe.
- Dishwasher: put half a teacup of vinegar in the top rack. Everything sparkles like new and it descales your machine. Also use vinegar instead of expensive commercial rinse aid.
- Washing machine: add half a cup of vinegar into the drum or the fabric-conditioner drawer. Whitens whites, removes soap scum so darks look darker, softens fabrics, descales, deodourises. kills germs and prevents scum/mould build-up.
- Algae: on paths, walls etc. Paint/spray neat vinegar on the areas and leave for a few days to work. Wash off with a hose and broom/brush.
- I used soap bars over plastic bottles of shower gel this year and am about to transition my boys into doing the same.
- I bought these shampoo bars a while ago, but was going to use the last of my bottled shampoo before I broke into them. However, I’ve just tried one and it seems to be OK! Lathers well, rinses easily, hair even squeaked a bit. Good for now.
- If you want to stick to your regular shampoo, at least buy the biggest size (1 x 900ml bottle uses less plastic than 3 x 300mls), and don’t buy travel-sized anything (a disproportionate use of plastic!). I just decant my products into smaller re-usable containers for trips.
- Cotton buds with paper ‘sticks’ are a no-brainer – buy here
- Use washable cleansing cloths or natural facial sponges instead of cotton wool (which takes a huge amount of water and land to produce) or wipes (most don’t biodegrade).
- Plastic toothbrushes don’t recycle and will be hanging around forever. So I use bamboo toothbrushes. Still no bamboo electric toothbrush heads, sadly.
- We have an electric water flosser. Far more efficient – plus dental floss and interdental brushes don’t break down and are harmful to wildlife.
- Save water with this FREE kit here – if you’re metered, the tap aerators and shower timers will save you £££s too.
- #PlasticFreePeriod: Ladies typically spend over £18,000 and use up to 11,000 sanitary products in a lifetime. I’ve been using a ‘Mooncup‘ since 2008. Hygienic, zero waste, and saves a fortune. There are also other alternatives on the market including Thinx, ModiBodi and these.
- I tried that trick of brushing my teeth with bicarbonate of soda and a touch of lemon juice and they went noticeably whiter! I wouldn’t do it too often, but if you’re scared of lemon juice on your teeth just try the bicarb on its own – or mixed with toothpaste as it tastes vile. (Oh, and turn your tap off whilst you’re brushing!)
- InnerVisions ID runs a virtually paper-free business. Everything is digital and backed-up in the Cloud. We generally work from our homes – no commutes! – with weekly meet-ups, which I usually walk or bus to.
- This year we sent a digital Christmas e-card and gifted meals and beds for the homeless to CRISIS and Centrepoint on behalf of our clients.
- As a member of ZEN (Zero Emissions Network) we have a partnership with Calverts printers who only use recycled or FSC-accredited papers and non-toxic inks. In 2020, our clients get a 10% discount and we waive our 15% print handling fee if you use them.
- Join us in the Guardian Sustainable Business Network in 2020, to keep up-to-date with other ethical and sustainability innovations.
Living life more sustainably is a great way to approach the new decade. How will you go greener in 2020?