A quick google search for ‘eco resolutions’ at this time of year produces a plethora of ideas, some of which I’m already doing, some of which are relatively easy for me to implement and some of them I’m going to have to try a lot harder – but if we all need to make transformational changes to have a positive impact on the planet, then we are all going to need to make more effort! Although sometimes it feels that I am stopped from making better, more sustainable choices by the existing structures around me – particularly in the typical family shop scenario where buying peanut butter becomes fraught with environmental angst – more on my peanut butter conundrum later.
‘Home’ is a hugely important concept with lots of connotations of security, wellbeing, family, warmth, protection, memories etc and our homes are also where we keep all of our stuff – and in the developed world we all tend to have rather a lot of it! One of the most interesting things I read during my Setting the Scene research was about decoupling status from things i.e. trying to embed a vision of a “good quality of life that do[es] not entail ever-increasing material consumption”. Our family home is certainly no exception so one of my challenges this year is to reduce the amount of stuff we have by responsibly getting rid of things wherever possible and perhaps more importantly, reducing the amount of stuff we buy in the first place (I’m really hoping Lego doesn’t count as stuff).
Get rid of stuff responsibly, buy less stuff in the first place
Our kitchen is very important to me, I like cooking and eating so one thing I am very aware of is the choices we make while food shopping. Fortunately we live near the amazing Warmley Bakehouse so I will usually bike there once or twice a week to buy bread in a paper bag thus killing various environmental birds with one stone (not sure that idiom is really suited to this topic) by buying locally, getting there in a carbon-free way and not using a plastic bag. I’ve also discovered the local fruit and veg shop which sells loose but beautifully stacked colourful fruit and veg, whereas most supermarkets currently package a significant amount of fresh produce in plastic. The most annoying thing being able to buy three peppers in a plastic bag cheaper than three individual peppers without the plastic bag – where’s the logic in that?
The rest of my food choices seem fraught with environmental difficulty so I’ve asked my friend, colleague and all round sustainability expert David Trevelyan to help me resolve my peanut butter conundrum. 50% of our household eat a lot of peanut butter (the other 50% can’t stand it!) and although I buy peanut butter with no palm oil in, I can either buy 1kg of peanut butter in a plastic pot or 5 glass jars – so which is better for the environment?
Assuming both products have the same environmental impact up to the point of pack filling for end use, all we need to consider is the journey from the final factory to the consumer and disposal:
Therefore, according to David, if we consider Climate Change to be the biggest global environmental risk, PET is more environmentally friendly than glass whilst in use (ignoring raw material impacts). So if you are a responsible person and wash out the peanut butter pot at the end of its life (to prevent recycling contamination and resultant landfilling or incineration) and recycle it, it is better to buy the peanut butter in a light weight plastic pot rather than a heavy glass jar. Despite its bad press, plastic is sometimes the best form of packaging (see information about the plastic bag vs. cotton bag debate here and here) but ultimately we will need to resolve the problems with the raw material and make sure all plastic is disposed of responsibly.
Carry out a plastic audit - collect a week’s worth of non-recyclable packaging, identify the most common item and work out how to replace it
One result of cooking and eating is food waste, some of it from food preparation (i.e. vegetable peelings), some of it leftover on plates (or rejected by the smaller members of the family) and too much of it from the things that have I have forgotten about which have now gone icky in the fridge. The statistics around food waste are horrifying: (source Love Food Hate Waste)
- Around 3 million glasses of milk are chucked away each day - this means that, every year, 36,500 cows are producing milk that is going down the drain
- We throw away the equivalent of one in every five bags of food shopping
- UK households throw away an average of 170 potatoes every year
- 860,000 apples get thrown away every single day
There are various aspects to food waste:
- Producing and transporting food creates greenhouse gas emissions so if we waste food we are essentially causing emissions for no reason
- There is a moral case for not throwing away food, when many people across the world are hungry
- If food waste goes into landfill, it rots and produces methane which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and contributes significantly to climate change
The amount of food waste collected by from Bristol has significantly increased following the Bristol Waste Company Slim my Waste, Feed my Face campaign, once the food waste is collected, it goes to GENeco in Avonmouth which is an anaerobic digestion plant producing green gas.
Manage fridge contents more carefully, plan meals more effectively and stop throwing away food that has now gone out of date.
Contact South Gloucestershire Council to clarify where our food waste goes.
There are loads of ideas about reducing the environmental impact of the food we eat, if neither reducing your non-recyclable plastic packaging nor eliminating food waste appeals to you, how about one of these?
- Joining Veganuary a bit late
- Buying local
- Buying from plastic-free shops (for a list of Bristol plastic-free shops, click here)
- Join an organic box veg scheme
- Not eating meat for breakfast and lunch / eating better quality meat / not eating meat at all
- Not buying anything with palm oil in
- Always carrying a shopping bag, water bottle and reusable coffee cup to significantly reduce your daily landfill
- Not buying those lunch deals where you end up with a lot of landfill per lunch
Next time, I’ll have a look at what’s in our bathroom and what challenges I’m going to take on there.