Updated: Nov 23, 2018
Last week I started a four part blog series about how to reduce the impact you have on the planet. If you're coming to this series fresh this week, then hop on over to the previous post to read more about why I've decided to launch this series.
In brief, I feel like our society here in the UK (and elsewhere in the world!) is having something of a collective awakening to our ecological footprint, and we're all looking for ways to be more proactive. In my own work as a landscape photographer, I'm guided by my love of the land and my mission to share the beauty that Earth has to offer. I feel a real responsibility to be a good custodian of my little patch of this planet, and through this series I hope to inspire others to do the same.
We all spend a lot of time thinking that we hold relatively little power in the face of governments and the wider global community, but the consumer choices you make hit big corporations in the only place they tend to care about... their bottom line. The name of the game is using your spending power wisely.
We all know the obvious points, like changing our light bulbs to energy savers, switching your tea bags to a plastic free option, composting food waste and taking reusable bags with us when we go shopping instead of taking a single-use bag for 5p at the checkout. Those are all low-hanging fruit that are easy changes to make, and hopefully we’re all on board with them by now. If you're not, then get on board! They're all super easy and a great place to start!
If you're looking for some other ways that you may not have explored already, then here are some slightly less common things you can change up to reduce your environmental impact.
A quick note on links: Links to anything on Amazon are affiliate links, and I make a teensy commission (3%) on anything you purchase via these links. This helps towards keeping the lights on for my small business, and if you do choose to purchase via these links then I am forever grateful for the support.
Alright, on with the show!
Bulk buy your household goods
Instead of purchasing small bottles, I now buy five litre jugs of ethical, environmentally friendly soaps and household items.
This is one I've started doing this year, and it's saved us money and has massively reduced the plastic that we use. Think about the number of times you add liquid hand soap, washing up liquid, fabric softener, or toilet cleaner to your shopping basket. What size are those bottles? Your hand soap is maybe 250ml or 500ml. The washing up liquid might be 500ml or a litre. Fabric softener could be 750ml or a couple of litres, tops.
Ecover is a good brand with progressive environment policies so they're a good place to start (and they offer 5 litre jugs), but there are loads of other brands offering bulk quantities. I then simply refill smaller, more conveniently sized bottles that I've been reusing since I began using my 5L refills in April. When you've used up the contents of your 5L container, go have a look to see if you can refill it locally, which will save on even more plastic!
A note on storage: I live in a modestly sized terrace with pitiful storage space, with no utility room and no garage, but I don't find I have an issue finding a place to store the large 5L jugs, it’s just a case of dedicating a shelf or some under-sink cupboard space.
Here are the products I use, and the pence per 100ml so you can compare costs with the smaller versions of these products.
BioD washing up liquid = 19p per 100ml
BioD Rosemary and Thyme hand soap = 34p per 100ml
ecoleaf fabric softener = 22p per 100ml
Ecover Pine Fresh toilet cleaner = 22p per 100ml
I'll just add as a final note that cost is always a factor for the majority of us, but it should not be the only factor when you're looking at reducing your impact - the driving force should be firstly whether these products have green credentials and are cruelty free, and secondly whether they will reduce the overall plastic waste your home produces. Saving a few pennies is just a nice perk!
Ditch bottled shampoo
This one might make you raise an eyebrow at first, but once you’ve made the change you’ll struggle to remember why on Earth you ever used shampoo or conditioner out of a plastic bottle.
To give you an idea of the impact that switching away from bottled shampoo can make, let’s take a look at just one popular shampoo. According to this article from five years ago (and the global population has grown by 600 million since then) Head and Shoulders sells 29 million bottles per year - that’s 110 bottles per minute. Imagine if every Head and Shoulders consumer switched to solid shampoo?! The irony is that this anti-dandruff/anti-dryness shampoo uses sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), which is known to be drying (particularly for dry, processed or afro hair, or those who suffer from skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis) therefore actually worsening your dry scalp in the long run. Manufacturers of SLS often use palm oil to produce it, and a shampoo produced at a rate of 110 bottles per minute is not going to be sustainable for the planet, let alone the sea of plastic bottles...
Solid shampoo and conditioner bars last the same length of time as 3-8 bottles (depending on the length and thickness of your hair) of the liquid version of the same product, and they result in no packaging waste. What’s more, the emissions produced by transporting it from manufacturer to your bathroom is negligible compared to those 3-8 bottles of shampoo or conditioner. Roughly ten to fifteen transport trucks of liquid shampoo would be needed for one transport truck of solid shampoo bars to get the same number of washes!
Think about the last time you went on holiday. Toiletries take up so much space and weight, and you’re literally transporting bottles containing 70-80% water anyway. If you’re not taking your full size bottles then you have to resort to buying those tiny, travel size bottles which is a ridiculous waste of money and plastic when you think about it.
I’ve been using solid shampoo for the past six months, and the difference to my hair is incredible. My hairdresser all but gives me a gold star every time I go for a trim!
Another thing I’ve added to my hair wash routine is a clarifying apple cider vinegar rinse. Like with my household cleaning supplies, I bought a 5 litre jug of ACV (make sure it's 'with the mother'). I’ve found that I need to wash my hair less often (I wash my hair every 3 - 5 days depending on the season), which saves both water and money. Win win!
So far I've tried Lush's Jason and the Argan Oil and J.R. Liggett's Original Herbal Formula. The Lush bar is a great one to start with as it lathers up into a comforting lather, so will feel very similar to bottled shampoo in that respect. The J.R Liggett's one needs a little more elbow grease to lather up, but because it's a more solid formulation it seems to last foreeeever. I started my current bar back in August, and nearly four months later I think I've probably still got a month of use left before it's all gone!
I’ve only recently got on board with solid conditioner as I had a couple of liquid conditioners to use up first, but I've bought a couple from Lush to try. I'll pop an update in the final post of the series to let you know how I get in with my first few weeks of using it!
Shift your mindset from single-use to reusable
Disposable needs to become a dirty word. Single use items, especially plastic ones, can all be replaced with something reusable, and you don’t need to skimp on convenience. Instead of having to remember to buy a new packet of disposable kitchen roll/cotton pads/plastic wrap/whatever, you just need to wash and reuse instead. It's not just the product itself that you'll be removing from landfill, but also the packaging, which is often non-recyclable plastic film.
Here are some ideas to get you moving. I promise you, once you start swapping single use for reusable, you’ll start seeing these swaps everywhere!
Invest in a water bottle and travel coffee cup. Ask your coffee shop to fill your coffee cup instead of using a disposable cup. I've backed a self-cleaning bottle on Kickstarter, which arrives next week and I'm incredibly excited about it.
Swap paper towels for reusable rags and cloths. When I moved to Surrey in February 2017, we didn't have any cleaning supplies of our own having just moved from San Francisco. I bought an inexpensive pack of 25 of those J cloth-style reusable cloths to use while scrubbing and cleaning the house from top to bottom on the weekend that we moved in. Since then I've been washing and reusing them over and over in any place where I would have once used a piece of kitchen roll. It seems as though they'll never wear out, and I can't even begin to calculate how many squares of kitchen roll I've saved. There are lots of handmade 'unpaper towels' on platforms like Etsy these days, so that's an option too if you like to keep your kitchen looking cute while having the convenience of a roll of (un)paper towels.
Swap cotton pads or makeup wipes for reusable cotton/flannel rounds. I've linked to Etsy here because there are so many small businesses making beautiful versions of this product, and I like to support independents where I can! When you put your laundry on, just pop your used cotton rounds in a mesh bag and throw them in the wash.
Wrapping paper becomes fabric wrap (see last week's post for an in depth look at that!)
Aluminium foil or greaseproof paper (for lining baking trays) can be swapped for silicone mats. Yes, aluminium can be washed and recycled, but only a fraction of us actually wash it well enough prior to recycling it, and soiled foil can contaminate a whole truck load of recycled waste. If you do wash your used foil and recycle it, then you'll be pleased to know that foil is recycled with 100% efficiency, with the aluminium losing none of its natural properties through the recycling process. It also uses only 5% of the resources compared to producing virgin aluminium. That said, if we can switch to reusable products instead, then all the better! Amazon make some in their Basics line, or these mats come in a jazzy red, if that's your thing. You can pop these in your dishwasher to clean so they're actually a perfect time saver as well as saving on waste.
Swap tampons or sanitary pads for a menstrual cup, such as the Moon Cup. Obviously this is one just for those uterus-owners among us, but the financial savings, the health benefits, and the MASSIVE waste reduction is huge. There are lots of resources out there, so get reading and have a go.
There are so many more, but hopefully there are a couple in there that you've not thought of or done yet. Switching to reusable items is such a wonderful practice to get into because it really is like a ripple effect. Start with a couple of the easier swaps and work your way out from there. The more you swap, the more you'll want to swap!
Switch to sustainable palm oil
Palm oil has been used for decades, but we've only recently awoken to the shameful deforestation and community displacement that occurs as a direct result of palm oil farming. With that being said, palm oil isn't all bad news. It's such a high-yield product that in order to produce the same quantity of any other vegetable oil, far greater swathes of land would need to be used, and more precious rainforests felled. The focus needs to be less on removing all traces of palm oil from your life, and more about supporting companies who have committed to (and are acting on) removing unsustainable and irresponsibly sourced palm oil from their products.
Some companies are doing better than others, and you might be surprised by some of the names that pop up on the 'responsible' list. Colgate-Palmolive (Softsoap) P&G (Cover Girl), and L'Oreal (including Kiehls, Lancome and The Body Shop) are market leaders in personal care. Nestle, Unilever and Danone are amongst the packaged food companies embracing sustainable palm oil. Safeway (US based supermarket) scores highly on their commitment to sustainable practices, while Whole Foods scored remarkably and surprisingly low. Some of these companies have other less desirable practices, so this isn't to say that sustainable palm oil use means they're a great company to support, but it's good to see big corporations taking responsibility on this front.
In the UK, we've recently seen Iceland popping up in the headlines because they've committed to removing palm oil altogether from their own products.
Other UK based nationwide shops such as Marks and Spencers, Boots, Sainsbury's, The Co-op, and Waitrose are using 100% sustainably sourced palm oil and are considered market leaders.
You can check WWF's scorecard (currently scoring 137 companies) for whether a company is making strides towards sustainably sourced palm oil, or have a look at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to see if a certain company has made a public commitment to reducing their palm oil use or switching to sustainable sources.
How you use your pounds and pennies can really send a message to big corporations. Your spending power all counts towards making a huge difference. Use it wisely.
And that brings me to the fifth and final way to use your consumer choice to make a positive change in the world....
Support small, local, businesses with sustainable practices.
Shopping at local independent shops isn't just good for your local economy, but it's downright good for the soul. By shopping small and local, you're helping small businesses thrive, allowing them to expand and employ local people. That's just good economic sense.
When I was researching setting up my own business and talking to suppliers about environmentally conscious card stock and eco-friendly packaging, I kept hearing the same thing: Small businesses are the ones asking for environmentally friendly options, but also the least likely to be able to afford it. It's basic supply and demand, and the demand sadly isn't yet there for the environmentally friendly options.
So independent shops seem to be much more likely to strive for eco-friendly practices, but this pushes costs up, making it hard for them to compete with bargain basement prices. It's a vicious circle. Despite this, small businesses are persevering, hoping that by joining the green business revolution they will collectively be able to bring the cost of these green practices down.
Minimalism has become a buzzword in 2018, and for good reason - the less stuff we buy, the more conscious we can be as consumers, and the more you can spend on the things you do decide to bring into your home. Basically, if you're buying less stuff, then you can use the money you save to become a more conscious consumer, supporting green, local, small and independent businesses.
It just so happens that this is the Just a Card Indie week, so this post couldn't be more perfectly timed! The idea behind Just a Card is the message that all purchases, however small, even 'just a card' are vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses. In the run up to Christmas, bear this in mind as you shop for gifts. You'll make an independent shopkeeper or craftsperson outrageously happy, and you'll be giving beautiful, individual, lovingly made gifts to your friends and family. What feels better than that?!
And on that note, we're done for week two of my eco-conscious series!
This series covers just some of the ways I've found to become a more environmentally aware citizen on my journey towards zero waste. Some of these ideas are focused on impact reduction, some are all out zero-waste, but I truly believe that if we all take steps in the right direction, however small, we'll be making progress. Share this post with your communities on social media, start having conversations with your friends an family. Simply put, if we're all pulling together, the wheels will start moving in the right direction.
Just a reminder that the giveaway is still on! For the duration of this series I'm running a giveaway, giving those who share this post the chance to win one of two prints.
For this week's entries into the giveaway, you can enter via Facebook or Instagram. The rules have slightly changed (every entry to date is still valid though, don't worry!!) so read on for how to enter.
To enter via Instagram, make sure you're following me on Instagram, then like the post announcing the second week of the giveaway, and tag two people who are embarking on their own eco-conscious journey. That’s it!
To enter via Facebook, follow my Facebook page, like this post and share it to your own Facebook page. Also make sure you let me know in the comments that you've shared the post - due to privacy settings it tells me that somebody shared the post, but not always who shared my post!
The point is to share this blog post as far and wide as I can to get people talking about how we can all make a difference. I hope I've got your creative juices flowing with some of these ideas!
Next week I'm talking about lifestyle changes, so come back next Thursday for the next instalment.