I don’t really think of myself as a pessimist but, rather, a realist. For me, this means accepting what seems the undeniable fact of climate change. The world is changing and, like it or not, we have to change with it unless, of course, you are a climate change denier and, like Donald Trump, are sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting LALALA.
Obviously, a problem as monumental as climate change requires monumental changes and it would be easy to think that there’s nothing an ordinary person can do to address it. I’d agree that politicians and big businesses are much better placed to make changes on a large scale but there is so much we can do as individuals, if we would only embrace the challenge. This is something I’m working on right now in my own rather ad-hoc way, one small change at a time. This is the longest post I’ve written so far, so if I were you I’d grab a cup of tea and a biscuit before you go any further.
For me, one of the biggest problems is plastics. The amount of plastic packaging we accumulate in one household is ridiculous and much of it either cannot, or will not, be recycled. I decided to address this in our house in several ways: The first thing I did was buy beeswax wraps. These come in various sizes, have a pleasant, slightly honeyed smell, and can be used in place of clingfilm to wrap sandwiches, cover bowls of food, or half an avocado (more on those later). I bought mine from Lakeland – they weren’t cheap (about £12 for a pack of three different sizes) but they should last a year, and what price saving the earth?! I am also investing in strong, reusable tubs of the Tupperware/Lock&Lock type – I buy them reduced in places like TKMaxx and take them with me when I go to the butchers and the cheese shop. I’ve found shopkeepers are happy to put the goods straight into them without any additional packaging.
One of the key things for me is to avoid supermarkets as much as possible, so none of those horrible, unrecyclable, black plastic meat trays. Instead, I’m buying locally reared meat from the butcher, cheese from the cheese shop, and veg (when not from the allotment) from the market. The market makes a big difference, as a fair bit of the produce is locally produced and there’s very little in the way of packaging – and I take a load of reusable bags. I think what packaging there is mostly covers goods which have been imported, such as celery from Spain or strawberries from Holland. Obviously we can’t avoid the supermarket entirely – you’ve got to get your baked beans from somewhere! Besides, Mr P still likes to buy huge blocks of cheese in resealable plastic bags but we’re not buying as much of that as we were so that’s progress of a sort, and the bags (and those from bread and so on) are being reused to wrap things for the freezer.
I’ve started making my own yoghurt, using whole Jersey milk from Tagg Lane Dairy which is just about a mile up the road. The milk is raw (i.e. completely unprocessed), and delicious; it’s really easy to make yoghurt from it and I’ll post the recipe in case you fancy giving it a go. Making my own means fewer food miles and no plastic. I did try making butter too, but hadn’t realized just how much cream you need to make a worthwhile amount so I’m parking that idea for the time being! The allotment is providing us with turnips, swede, and spinach so I make lots of vegetable based soups and casseroles, and with a bit of luck we’ll have much more next year which I’ve had the allotment going for two years. We’re also trying to avoid all those foods which are out of season, so no Dutch strawberries in winter for instance. Eating seasonally helps us to reduce our food miles and going without strawberries now will, I hope, make eating our own homegrown ones in the summer all the more pleasurable.
Also in the kitchen, we’ve stopped buying those throwaway dishcloths and are using the kind you can stick in the washing machine instead. I’m not much of a knitter but am thinking of having a go at making some of my own from cotton yarn, as they last so much longer. Non-biological washing liquid has been replaced by powder in a cardboard box and we’re converting to a more environmentally friendly washing-up liquid. Eventually, when I’ve got Mr P on board a bit more securely, I’d like us to use a refillable bottle for washing-up liquid, as there’s a new shop opened in Buxton which sells things without packaging but I’ve not yet had chance to visit it; it’s closed on Wednesdays which is my day off, so I need to make an extra special effort to go on a Saturday when I would normally avoid shops like the plague! I did suggest making our own washing-up liquid with lemon juice, soda crystals, etc., but Mr P vetoed that one – I think he felt it was a step too far but I reckon we’ll get there in the end, though it may not be til we’ve got our own smallholding and have retired!
We’ve made a good start in the kitchen, I like to think, but I feel like we’ve barely even started, and it’s nothing compared to the uphill task that is the bathroom. Just go into your own bathroom and look around – I’m willing to bet there’s almost nothing that isn’t swathed in plastic of all sorts.
This is the room where I felt the task before me was the most overwhelming, to the point of being almost paralyzed by the ‘bunny in headlights’ effect. We’ve been using Simple soap for the shower for quite some time but that was mainly due to problems I had with the perfume in shower gel irritating my skin rather than any virtuous intent. Still, this made me think: If I use soap bars for the shower why not try them for my hair too? I have to admit, I was sceptical about this. My hair is naturally curly and completely unnaturally coloured and, as I’ve aged, my hair has become drier than it used to be. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go and headed off to Lush where I spent a whopping £7 on a shampoo bar which smelt like lemons but, confusingly, was a lovely deep lavender colour. The Lush bars come with no packaging at all, so I bought a little tin (Lush sell them for about £2.50) to keep it in and stop it going mushy. I was so unconvinced it would work that I bought the bar before we’d used up all our liquid shampoo just in case. Mr P was actually the first to use the new bar and declared it a hit. I liked it too and so that was that – we’re on our third shampoo bar and have no intention of going back to liquid in plastic bottles. If you fancy giving them a go, the purple lemony one is lovely, as is the honey vanilla.
So far, so good but I’m struggling with stuff for my face. I decided to stop buying micellar water and look for something more sustainable and, preferably, not in plastic at all. This has proved to be really difficult, as I haven’t used soap on my face in about 30 years and didn’t want to start again now. I trawled round the usual suspects – Boots, Superdrug, etc., and couldn’t find anything, so decided to try something I’d read about online; olive oil. Yes, really – olive oil! To cut a long story short, used in combination with a muslin cloth it cleansed my skin brilliantly but I couldn’t quite shift the slightly oily feeling on my skin. I could have been imagining it but it felt weird so I headed back to Lush, where I bought something called Ultrabland.
This sounds really boring and it’s a terrible name for what is actually a pretty good product. It’s a thick, gooey texture and you just massage it in and, again, take it off with a muslin cloth rinsed in very warm water. You have to be thorough with the cloth but it does leave my skin very smooth and soft. The container is made from all recycled plastic and you can take these back for Lush to reuse. Eventually I’m hoping to find a recipe for my own cleanser which will replace the Ultrabland but, for now at least, I’m reasonably happy and my skin looks pretty good. However, I draw the line at the daily moisturiser – I am completely wedded to a daily dose of factor 30 and can’t bring myself to give up that or the hair dye. Nor am I prepared to say goodbye to my beloved electric toothbrush. I’m a flawed human being who is happy to do what I can but I’m just not ready to turn into a toothless old bag!
We’ve made a start – we recycle too, obviously, but there’s a long way to go before we can really say we’re properly environmentally friendly. Ultimately, we’re aiming for a smallholding where we can produce all our own fruit, veg, eggs, and maybe chicken and pork, have a small wind turbine and solar panels to produce our own electricity and maybe even sell some back to the grid. Rain water harvesting is an aim, along with a composting toilet. The point is to be as self-sufficient as possible but we’re not hair-shirt people; we still want an internet connection. We like our own company and each other’s but we don’t want to be completely cut off from the outside world. We’ve no idea quite what the future holds but it seems as if we’re beginning to develop a plan, of sorts and that, in itself, is a comfort.