Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips
With the New Year came a plethora of articles and television programmes, basically with a new year-new you theme. The tidy fairy aka Marie Kondo has taught people to fold t shirts and declutter their homes. I’m not a fan of the whole decluttering lark, because it tends to actually create anxiety in many, because we are social animals and can feel pressure to conform and seek approval from our peers by following the trend even when we don’t really want or need to. And much of it is aimed at people who are financially secure enough so that getting rid of an item that still has use in it isn’t a problem if they suddenly discover they do need it six months down the line. They can just buy a new one. Nor am I am a fan of the idea that everything you own must spark joy. I’m more a fan of the William Morris adage: “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
Anyway, that’s all by-the-by.
I didn’t watch the iconic series Blue Planet (1 or 2) that introduced to the greater public the fact that plastic waste is causing serious havoc. I couldn’t face it. I lived by the sea shore for six years; I saw on a daily basis how much plastic crud washed up. But people have woken up to the knowledge that plastic is everywhere and have wished to do something about it. The real onus is on governments worldwide to legislate against problematic use of plastic and recycling and to fund better research and technology. Companies wishing to retain and attract customers are rushing to present their green credentials.
That said, in a spirit of encouraging others to do their bit, I am going to join in to make a few suggestions.
Replace make-up removing wipes (they contain micro plastics) with muslin cloths. Cheap, easily available and endlessly washable, they’re soft enough to use instead of cotton wool or wipes. You can chuck ‘em into the wash with everything else as they take up almost no room. Buy ten or more and change daily.
Consider bamboo. It’s not carbon neutral, but a toothbrush made from it could biodegrade in six months. You can get dental floss made from it too and many other things. I’m waiting for companies to catch on and begin supplying heads for electric toothbrushes in bamboo. (I use an electric toothbrush much of the time as my health means I try to conserve my energy)
Return to soap rather than shower gel. You can buy wonderful natural soaps these days, many of which come wrapped in paper that you can recycle. Much gentler than soap used to be, these new products are superfatted so they don’t dry the skin. Watch out for palm oil, though. I buy French soaps, when I can. The classic Marseille block, a huge hunk of olive green, isn’t pretty, but it does a good job. It usually needs to be sawn into quarters before use as the block is so huge. You could even grind it down, add what scent you like and remould for customised soap. Lush now even does solid shower gel, which is perfect if your skin dislikes soap. They’re also stockists of solid shampoo and conditioner bars. Since they changed the formula some years ago to avoid palm oil, my hair hasn’t done well on the bars, especially in the hard water area I live in.
Go back to old fashioned loose tea rather than tea bags (they contain plastic, though some companies are phasing this out). Make it in a pot or use a little device. Lots of such things are available. The tea tastes better too. Likewise coffee. The machines which require little aluminium pods don’t make better coffee. Simple filters, stove top percolators and cafetières (French presses) mean you can explore the endless range of ground coffees out there. Most city centres have a shop or two where you can buy from hundreds of different beans. They’ll even grind it for you. My favourite is a Peruvian one, which is a special treat; most of the time we use beans from Tesco’s original range. They’re so good, people ask us what they are.
See if you can find a place where cleaning products can be refilled. I’m lucky enough to live a five minute walk from an eco-shop. I get washing up liquid, laundry liquid, loo cleaner and other things filled up rather than a new bottle each time. Neal’s Yard do refills for some beauty products in their shops.
When it comes to a garden, if you are lucky enough to have such a thing, leave space for nature. Avoid sprays of herbicides and insecticides as far as possible. I’ve observed how birds will find and pick off every single greenfly from a plant infested with them. There is a balance, and given a little help, gardens find it themselves. Cut a small entrance so that hedgehogs can gain access through a fence too high for them to climb. We have hedgehogs in our garden; consequently, we don’t have a problem with slugs and snails. Don’t be too tidy. Clearing away fallen leaves isn’t good for the garden as those leaves are meant to decay and return to feed the soil. I know, it looks a mess. But believe me, when you see a host of starlings descend and start poking their beaks into the lawn, fishing for invertebrates, you’ll know it makes a difference. Plus point: they aerate your soil! Plant flowers that attract pollinators, not just honey bees. Bumblebees are endangered and need help so don’t go for showy double flowers that hold no nectar or are impossible to get into.
Soil has been found to contain microbes that affect well-being in a positive manner, so don’t always wear gloves. Gardening is good for body, mind and soul, and even just sitting in nature does you a lot of good. Support the agencies that promote wildlife if you can.
As one meme says, there’s no Planet B. This earth is our mother and we have harmed her. Time to do what we can as individuals and as nations (if only mine would get its act together!) and mend what we can, mitigate against further damage and control our insatiable greed.