Raising Children #6 – Twenty Five Ways To Be More Eco-Friendly

There is an unavoidable sense of hypocrisy for any aspiring environmentalist who lives in a heated home, eats meat, drives a car and who doesn’t live completely off the grid.  I am a long way from being a purist, but I hope that by making some small adjustments and living a little more ethically, I can help save the planet.

Being a parent comes with certain responsibilities.  We are responsible for the well-being of future generations and this includes ensuring that they still have a planet to live on.  Can you call yourself an environmentalist if you have children?  Children, by their very nature, are voracious consumers.  Children will always need stuff.

By implementing a small number of positive changes in our daily lives we can help create a more sustainable approach.  It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive and by selecting and adopting some of these small steps, we can achieve success, reduce our carbon footprint and help save the world.  I have rated the following ideas by simplicity and cost efficiency.  Some might seem unobtainable, but hopefully a few might be useful.  Please add your own suggestions to the comments at the bottom.

1.  Check product labelling.

Simplicity ****

Cost Efficiency *****

Look for products that have been certified to environmental leadership standards.  There are 88 recognised ecolabels in the UK which you can find at the ecolabel index.  It may take some time initially to identify the products and companies that have an environmental conscience, but once you have found your choice of dolphin friendly tuna and child-labour-free clothing, then it should be relatively easy to form some customer loyalty and stick to buying the same stuff.

2.  Buy local produce.

Simplicity ***** 

Cost Efficiency *****

Local food is generally fresher, uses less packaging and will taste better than produce with a larger carbon footprint that has travelled halfway across the world.  It is also a great way to support our own economy.  There will be a requirement to embrace the importance of seasonality to understand what is available at different times of the year.   Organic is great if you can afford the extra cost.  The wholesome food logo (food grown or produced for sale in the local region) is a less expensive alternative to organic.

3.  Grow your own vegetables.

Simplicity ***** 

Cost Efficiency *****

The next step on from buying local produce is growing your own to supplement your shopping.  It can be expensive, especially the initial outlay to get set up.  It isn’t for everyone and it takes a fair amount of time and effort, but the side benefits include fresh air, exercise, education and immense personal satisfaction.  The best return is gained by selecting high yield crops that are usually imported such as courgettes and green beans.  This is challenging for those without a large garden or access to an allotment, but a window box with some fresh herbs could be a good start.

4.  Reduce packaging.

Simplicity ****

Cost Efficiency *****

About two thirds of the UK’s plastic waste comes from packaging.  Buying in bulk is a good way to save money and to reduce the waste from lots of smaller packs, but depends on the space you have available for storage.  Buy loose wherever possible and take it all home in a reusable shopping bag.  Bubble wrap, cardboard and other packaging products can be reused.  Some brands now make a conscious effort to use less packaging and incorporate recycled materiel wherever possible.  Look for the On-Pack Recycling Label.

NewLabels2017

5.  Choose ethical Coffee.

Simplicity ****

Cost Efficiency *****

High street coffee is an expensive indulgence, but there are numerous choices that can make it less of an environmental concern.  Up to 2.5bn takeaway cups are thrown away every year and these are practically impossible to recycle.  Most shops will now give customers a discount or extra loyalty stamps for bringing their own reusable cups.  Look for coffee shops which support the Fairtrade Association, Rainforest Alliance and the Soil Association.

Rainforest alliance and fairtrade logo

6.  Reduce food waste.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Nearly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets wasted every year.  Having a meal plan and then only buying what is required is a simple way to avoid food getting thrown out.  Opting for delivery is a great way to avoid impulse buying things you don’t need as you wander around the supermarket.

7.  Recycle kitchen and garden waste.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Composting is a great way to get rid of waste and create a great fertiliser for the vegetable garden.  You can add hair/fur, shredded paper, straw, sawdust, grass and plant cuttings, vegetable and fruit trimmings, horse manure and leaves.  Avoid meat, dairy, coal ash, animal waste, diseased plants, weeds and anything that has been cooked.

8.  Recycle household waste. 

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Most households already have separate recycling bins, but not everything that gets put in them is recyclable including dirty kitchen paper, wrapping paper, plastic shopping bags, egg cartons, used takeaway containers and pizza boxes and coffee cups.  Items that can be recycled that you may not be aware of are clean and unused kitchen foil and metal trays, empty aerosols and aluminium tubes (like tomato puree).

9.  Reduce indoor pollutants.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Many of the chemicals in cleaning products, bleach and degreasers are toxic.  Aerosols and air fresheners can contain phthalates.  Glass cleaners and polish can contain ammonia.  Oven cleaners are probably the most toxic as they contain sodium hydroxide.  There are lots of recipes for homemade cleaning products using vinegar or baking soda.   If that seems too much then there is a good range of eco-cleaning products in most supermarkets.

10.  Use non-toxic and sustainable beauty products.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

The eco-friendliest option would be to drastically reduce the different types of beauty products that we accumulate in our bathrooms.  For the stuff you can’t do without, there is a cosmetics database which will tell you everything you need to know about a product and will give it a score from 0-10.  Natural beauty products should have an independent certification logo.  At the very least you can check the label to ensure they are palm oil free.

11.  Reduce single use plastic.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Using lots of things just once that will never biodegrade is perhaps one of the most unsustainable things that we do.  The EU is moving to ban plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, cotton buds and balloon sticks so we might as well get used to living without these items now.

12.  Avoid single use water bottles.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

There are also plans to deal with single use plastic water bottles, but these currently centre around collecting them after use.  Good alternatives include glass bottles for storing and cooling water in the fridge and BPA free multi use bottles for when you are out and about.

Snorkelling
Snorkelling is a great way to explore the ocean – let’s keep it clear of plastic waste

13.  Buy eco-friendly furniture.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

You can check that you are buying sustainable household furniture by checking that they comply with environmental standards such as the Forest Stewardship Council.

FSC Logo

14.  Cut down on wet wipes and Kitchen roll.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Wet wipes are an essential item on most parent’s must-have kit list. However, aside from fatbergs and blocked sewage pipes, the environmental impact of using wet wipes and kitchen roll is significant.  The ‘flushable’ wipes are not flushable as they do not degrade significantly in the sewers.  Flannels and re-usable cloths are a great alternative.  If you can’t live without wet wipes, then use less or try the good range of plastic-free biodegradable and compostable versions.

15.  Try cloth nappies. 

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

This really isn’t for everyone, but disposable nappies account for nearly one third of non-biodegradable waste.  Disposable nappies contain toxic substances such as sodium polyacrylate, phthalates, oil and dioxin.  If they aren’t emptied before disposal (which they should be) they also contain baby poo, which will not decompose if buried in landfill.  Cloth nappies look better, have no chemicals and don’t end up in the landfill.  The initial outlay can be costly, but in the long run multi use should be more economical.  It can take a few weeks to get used to and babies will need changing more often.  Spare kit also takes up more space when you are out and about.  There are a good range of eco-disposables that can be used for travel.

16.  Get rid of dog poo properly. 

Simplicity ****

Cost Efficiency *****

Even the best eco-friendly dog poo bags will not biodegrade properly in landfill.  You can flush it, but like the ‘flushable’ wet wipes and nappy liners, the flushable bags are not actually flushable and should not be put down the loo.  The best method seems to be a dog waste disposal system that you can bury in the garden.  You can also buy dog poo wormeries.

17.  Choose a green energy tariff.  

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Choosing a green energy tariff will help encourage suppliers to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and reduce their carbon footprint.  You can get a tariff from dedicated green energy suppliers who supply ecologically sourced power to the grid, or you can request a green energy tariff from most mainstream suppliers.  Other ways to reduce your energy bills are to install insulation and double glazing.

18.  Install Solar Panels.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Depending on your property, you may be able to install solar panels.  They can be expensive to install, but can offer long term savings.

19.  Lower the thermostat and the hot water temperature.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

If your water is so hot that you must mix in cold to prevent scolding, then you can turn it down.  Check the Sedbuk rating on your boiler to see how efficient it is.   Reducing the thermostat for heating in your house can also lead to significant savings.

Sedbuk Rating scale - A to G
Sedbuk Ratings

20.  Use LED lightbulbs. 

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

There are three main types of regular lightbulbs; CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamp), halogens or LEDs.  Halogens are similar to incandescent bulbs in terms of colour, quality and energy used and will last about 2 years.  CFLs are cheap and are four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but the light quality isn’t great.  LEDs use 90% less energy than an incandescent and are the most energy efficient type of lighting.  They are more expensive to buy, but should last up to 25 years, making them the cheapest option in the long term.

21.  Use energy efficient appliances.

Simplicity ****

Cost Efficiency *****

There loads of great eco-friendly appliances like eco-kettles, which keep the water hot after boiling like a thermal flask.  Look for the EPEAT label for greener electronics.

22.  Conduct fridge maintenance.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Check for loose seals, which can allow cool air to seep out and waste energy.  Seals can be cleaned with baking soda and water.  When the condenser coils get dusty, the fridge can’t work efficiently.  Pull the fridge out to reveal the coils and then vacuum them with the brush attachment.   Check the thermostat and ensure you have the fridge at the optimal temperature of 3-5°C.  For best effect the fridge should be full to retain the cold and to stop warm air rushing in when you open the door, but not so full that the cool air cannot circulate.

23.  Check the tumble dryer and use it less.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

Cleaning the lint from the filter every time you use the dryer and ensuring that water reservoirs are emptied in condenser dryers will increase efficiency.  Hanging washing outside is the optimal solution.

24.  Drive less.

Simplicity *****

Cost Efficiency *****

If you can’t afford an energy efficient car yet, there are plenty of other ways to travel.  Take public transport, use a car pool, cycle or walk.  If you do have to drive try and plan your route to achieve multiple objectives to be more efficient.

25.  Pick up litter.

Simplicity ****

Cost Efficiency *****

Not everyone will be as conscious about the environment as you.  Join in with initiatives like #take3forthesea and take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach.   There is also a new Swedish inspired fitness craze called plogging, which is basically just jogging and picking up litter.

If you found this interesting then please check out my other posts in the ‘101 thoughts on raising children’ series:

101 Thoughts on Raising Children

 

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