“Stuff” and resolutions

January 3rd, 2010 by admin

My new year’s resolution for 2009 was to try and buy less “stuff”, and to try and only buy second-hand or recycled.


As the Buy Nothing Day website notes, everything we buy has an impact on the environment.  It’s explained very well in the amazing animated film The Story of Stuff.  Recycled and second-hand items have less of an environmental impact, but even so, I live in a small flat, I have too much “stuff” already.  My books and DVDs spend 99.9% of the time sitting on a shelf gathering dust, other “stuff” lies in boxes stored away, so that I often forget even that I own things.  I just don’t use or need all the stuff I have, let alone more.

How did I do?

Pretty good, I think!  Of course, I had to ask myself many times, do I really need this?  Do I really need this new item of clothing when I already have a wardrobe full-to-bursting?  Do I want to buy this DVD just because it’s only £5, or is it better to rent it?  Can I download music instead of buying another CD to gather dust?  I wasn’t always successful in buying nothing, but my “shopping list” for the whole of 2009 was as follows:

24 Second-hand things: 1 CD, 1 book, 1 computer game, 1 coffee table, 20 items of clothing

16 Brand-new things (the sins): 2 magazines, 6 household & kitchen items (e.g. saucepans), 1 pair of shoes, 3 items of clothing, postcards while on holiday, and 3 gifts.

I haven’t include groceries (obviously), lightbulbs, underwear, tights, towels and toiletries (I don’t buy makeup so my toiletries purchases are low).

This year?

I’m trying to do the same!  I’m not sure if I can not buy any clothes for a year but I am going to try and not buy any new clothes, and “swish” (swap) the clothes I do have but don’t wear. I will continue to download MP3s, rent DVDs, and give others gifts of food,  secondhand/recycled gifts, or experience gifts (e.g. tickets for shows).  And maybe get rid of some more of my existing stuff through Freegle, Gumtree, or eBay.

Copenhagen: online petitions for climate change action

August 26th, 2009 by admin

The UN Climate change conference in Copenhagen, in December 2009 is crucial for the future of the climate.  It’s where a gobal deal will hopefully be made to agree action on climate change.  I keep stumbling across online petitions asking for people to support decision-makers attending Copenhagen to make an ambitious agreement  leading to effective action on climate change. I’ve brought the petitions together here – feel free to sign them!

UN worldwide Campaign on Climate Change – “Seal the Deal”:

Department of Energy and Climate Change ‘Act on Copenhagen’

Ed Miliband (UK Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change) campaign for an ambitious climate change deal at Copenhagen:

Friends of the Earth – Demand Climate Justice:

Council of Europe “New Earth Deal”

Avaaz.org “Join the call for a strong climate treaty”:

Operation Noah “Sign the Ark” petition:

If you have any more Copenhagen petitions that I’ve missed, please add them in the comments below.  Thanks!

Something old, something new

May 31st, 2009 by admin

Yesterday I learned that the goods we buy and services (such as banks and shops) contribute to an amazing 3.5 tons of our carbon footprint, on average, in the UK.  Considering the UK average footprint is 12 tons of CO2 that’s a huge percentage!

Clearly the carbon involved in manufacture, production, packaging, transportation, of new products is huge – not to mention energy use of retail outlets, and the carbon footprint of associated activities such as marketing.  There’s a more in-depth analysis here (”Buy an old thing not a new thing”) but clearly buying second-hand is a much more environmentally friendly option.  Second-hand goods tend to be cheaper, and tend to last longer too, if they’ve lasted to be handed on…

Since the beginning of 2009 I’ve tried to limit my purchases, not just for environmental reasons, but also economic.  Here’s my notes on environmentally-aware purchases:

Buy second-hand: Websites such as eBay and Gumtree make buying second-hand very easy.  Computer exchange sell second hand DVDs, computer games and mobile phones, and of course, there are our old friends charity shops, vintage clothing shops, and second hand book shops.  There are now more and more “swap shops” for second-hand goods, “swishing” events for clothes, and sites such as Freecycle or Snaffleup where you can pick up items for free.

So far this year I’ve purchased a variety of second-hand items, mostly clothes, but also furniture, books & CDs.  Second-hand means I can afford beautiful clothes from shops that I wouldn’t otherwise buy from – for example, including postage costs, I’ve purchased a Hobbs skirt for £3.49, and a beautiful Monsoon top for £4.69. Bargain!

Low-impact purchases: Downloading MP3 music, e.g. from iTunes, means there’s no physical product to manufacture or transport.  Similarly, I’m subscribed to the Ecologist, but  with an online-only subscription, and amazingly they’re even phasing out their printed magazine from July 2009.  Reading newspapers online as well means less paper to recycle (recycling is good, but better not to have anything to recycle in the first place?!).

I haven’t recorded my food purchases, but buying seasonal food, from local sources, is very important, as is buying organic food (& clothing where possible) that doesn’t require nitrogen-based fertilisers.  These fertilisers break down to produce nitrous oxides, which are greenhouse gases up to 300 times more damaging than CO2. Organic = less greenhouse gases.

Buy what you need: Obviously not everything can be bought second-hand.  I’ve purchased new toiletries, tights and energy-efficient lightbulbs.  The key is to only buy things that that you actually need and that you’ll use.

Buy to last: Cheap products may seem money-saving but they often break or wear out easier and need replacing faster = worse for the environment overall.  So, try and buy things that last! I bought a new pair of shoes from Hotter shoes (very good quality, and made in the UK), and not just any saucepans.. but ones from M&S (I think Plan A is a brilliant idea).

Giving second-hand or crafted gifts: Personally, I would LOVE it if people bought me second-hand things rather than brand new, and I’ve asked for this in the past, but I think people can feel guilty or cheap for giving second hand!  Creating gifts can be a good option (knitting or crafting things if you are so inclined) and is nice because they have that personal touch.

So far this year I’ve bought 2 brand new gifts for people.  I just didn’t feel comfortable buying second hand in these instances, but I try and consider if I can find something appropriate that isn’t brand new.

No excuse?! I’m not perfect and I can’t justify every purchase I’ve made! :) I bought a copy of Marie Claire magazine as it came with a free Body Shop Body butter on the front cover…  But, it’s only one magazine, and it is recyclable which is a start?!

If you have any more ideas do let me know!

Crunch time for Heathrow?

October 29th, 2008 by admin

There have been some interesting articles lately on the impact of the “credit crunch” on aviation:
Britons fly less as credit crunch bites (Daily Telegraph, 22 October 2008)
Global demand for flights nosedives (Guardian, 25 October 2008)

Plus some more evidence from the government-funded Environment Agency that the proposed third runway at Heathrow will damage health (BBC News, 6 October 2008).  The Conservatives even said that they would scrap a third runway in favour of a high-speed rail line (BBC News 29 September 2008).

Of course, the consultation on the proposed new runway at Heathrow is now closed, with the government’s decision to be announced by the end of the year.  Ruth Kelly, former Secretary of State for Transport, seemed dead set on a third runway, more or less declaring that it would go ahead, even before the consultation had closed (!).  But, this from the Evening Standard earlier this week, suggests that all is not lost:

Heathrow: MPs plot revolt against third runway (Evening Standard, 28 October 2008)

Getting MPs to sign Early Day Motions on the Climate Change Bill have been successful in changing the emissions reduction target to 80% and including aviation and shipping emissions (Minister bows to calls on climate change bill Guardian 28 October 2008).  Yay!  Writing to your MP actually does work, MPs are there to work for their constituents’ interests after all.  They will do what they are asked – if enough people ask them.

So, if you can spare a minute, please ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion that calls for a rethink on the Heathrow expansion plans.  You can email your MP using writetothem.com.  The email I just sent my MP is below…

Dear Frank Dobson MP,

Please will you sign the Early Day Motion (EDM 2344) calling for a rethink on plans for the third runway at Heathrow?


A third runway at Heathrow has serious environmental impacts as well as a direct effect on quality of life for London residents (in Camden we are directly under a number of flight paths) and noise and air pollution problems will deteriorate drastically if a third runway were to go ahead.  London already has very poor air quality and noise levels and more aircraft will only make these problems worse.

Emissions from aircraft will also undo all the good work set out to achieve by the Climate Change Bill (which you have supported – thank you).  An 80% reduction in emissions can categorically not be achieved with airport expansion, “green” aircraft technology simply is not there.  Aircraft emissions are so damaging (due to radiative forcing effects) that they will undo any emissions cuts elsewhere.  The environmental case against aviation expansion is clear cut, and the economic case is unproven, especially in a world where carbon emissions will become more and more costly, oil prices look set to rise over the next few years, and airlines are going bust due to spiralling costs and a lack of custom.

Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris are all counted in the “top 10″ most popular destinations from Heathrow – yet these destinations are very easily reached by high speed rail links, if investment were to be made in this area.

I do not believe that a sustainable transport policy can include aviation expansion.   Carbon emissions have to be cut, and the numbers of people living in the area affected by flights continues to rise.  This is why I ask you please to sign EDM 2344 on behalf of your constituents in Camden.



energy saving ideas

October 26th, 2008 by admin

It’s Energy Saving Week so here’s somEnergy Saving Week logoe ideas to save energy:

  • Use your oven’s heat …if you turn the oven off 3-4 mins before you’ve finished cooking, the warmth left in the oven will finish cooking your food fine. Also when cooking things like baked potatoes, you don’t need to wait for the oven to warm up before you put them in…just adjust the time a little to compensate.  Cooking things together in the oven saves having the oven on for twice as long.  So if you’re cooking something for dessert, consider cooking it in the oven at the same time as your main course.  If you have to reheat food, use a microwave, it uses a lot less power than an electric or gas oven.
  • Don’t overfill the kettle …if you want one cup of tea, boil water for one cup, not four.  (Even more energy saving, have a cold drink instead!)
  • Turn things off (your TV, CD player, DVD player, Freeview box etc).  If you’re not watching a DVD your DVD player does not need to be on.  If there’s a red light on the front it means it’s still using electricity, you need to turn it off at the plug.  If you have a cordless phone consider turning it off when you are out of the house, or at night – you’re not going to be answering it anyway and most telephone answering message services work whether your phone is switched on or not.
  • Don’t charge your mobile overnight …your phone does not need 8 hours to recharge, and phone chargers use energy all the time when they’re plugged in.  Yet most people charge their phones overnight.  Instead, charge your mobile in the daytime and unplug your charger when you’re done.  Even better, turn your mobile off overnight and the battery will last longer and need charging less often (how many calls do you need to make/receive when you’re asleep?)
  • Air dry.  Heating uses a lot of energy.  If you’re drying your hair, try using a cooler setting on your hairdryer, or, even better, let your hair air dry (or at least half air dry).  Air dry clothes instead of using a tumble dryer.  Hang them up to get creases out of them so that they need less ironing (ironing uses a lot of energy too).
  • Use power-saving settings on your PC.  Change the settings on your computer so that it goes into power saving mode when you’re not using it.  And make sure to turn your computer off overnight.  If you have to keep your computer on, at least turn the monitor off when you’re not using it.  If there’s a light on your monitor it means the monitor is still on, even if the computer is off.  Laptops use a lot less power than desktop computers, so next time you think of upgrading your computer, consider a laptop.

The Guardian’s article from a few months ago on “the cost of living” shows the cost of energy for various things, for example, roasting a chicken is 50p.  Save energy and save some pennies too…

(Almost) zero-waste

October 21st, 2008 by admin

I always though “Zero waste” sounded difficult and pretty daunting.  Almost zero-waste breakfastHow can it be possible to not throw anything away?  Of course, it depends a lot on the recycling facilities available in your area, but it is possible, and doesn’t have to be difficult!  Pictured on the right is my (almost) zero waste breakfast: porridge.

Quaker oats, amazingly, are packaged in a cardboard box – no plastic bag inside like other cereal packets – hooray!  The cardboard box, and plastic milk bottle are easily recyclable. The only waste comes from the plastic milk bottle lid, which cannot be recycled here in Camden (although there’s a company called GHS recycling based in Dorset that collects milk bottle tops for recycling… I just wish they had more collection locations!)

Of course porridge can also be made just with water (no milk) but I prefer my porridge milky!  I do always buy organic milk though, as, apparently it takes a third of the energy to produce than regular, non-organic milk (according to Friends of the Earth).

So, how did our “watch your waste week” go?  In a “normal” week between 2 of us we throw away 3kg of rubbish to landfill.  I thought this was pretty good to start off with, since the national average in the UK is, apparently, 8kg of rubbish to landfill per person per week.  Even so, in our “zero” waste week we reduced this to 25g of non-recyclable rubbish (mainly milk and juice bottle lids, and some bits of plastic wrapping), plus 725g of compostable rubbish (almost all vegetable peelings).  Now all I need is a compost bin……..

Lovely lip balm

October 5th, 2008 by admin

Cutting down on unnessecary plastic packaging is one of my priorities, not least because of the plastic soup” in the North Pacific and how so many animals mistakenly eat pieces of plastic or get caught in them.

It’s crazy when you think about the fact that plastic takes hundreds, even thousands of years, to degrade (we just don’t know yet, as plastics have only been around since the late 1800s, early 1900s).  Scarily, plastic just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces instead of actually “degrading” as other materials do… and yet there’s so much plastic used in disposable items, or things we only use once or twice.

Badger lip & body balmSo when my lip balm ran out I spent an age trying to find an alternative that did not come packaged in plastic.  Those little tins of vaseline are one option, but Vaseline is petroleum-based, and I was hoping to find something that was not made of oil.  Lush do lip balms in tins too, but I didn’t find them quite effective enough, and they’re quite expensive considering how small the tins are (although they are quite solid, so last a while).  But my favourite at the moment is Badger lip & body balm.

Badger lip balm is made of olive oil, castor oil, beeswax, aloe vera, birch, plus my “Highland mint” flavour (is flavour the right word? or is it perfume?) contains lavender, peppermint, rosehip, seabuckthorn berry, and spearmint.  It’s nice and minty and makes your lips soft, not greasy like vaseline.  And, best of all, it’s packaged in a little metal tin, which can be reused or recycled.  A lot better than all that plastic and petroleum stuff…

Zero-waste meals?

September 30th, 2008 by admin

I can see why they called it “watch your waste week” and not “zero-waste” week since zero is pretty A zero waste meal?daunting.  Especially since so far this week (since Sunday.. so that’s..err..3 days…) our bin has acquired Pret a Manger coffee cups & lids, ice-cream tubs, yoghurt pots, pizza packaging…so for next week I’ve been trying to think of meals that require as little waste as possible.  It’s quite challenging.

Cheese is definitely out (since it’s packaged in non-recyclable plastic), and short of buying my own oranges and squeezing my own juice which is just too time-consuming and complicated, I’m going to be stuck with plastic bottle lids from juice and milk cartons — though the tetrapak cartons themselves are recyclable!  I re-iterate this point since the watch your waste week people themselves (in their leaflet) give the advice:

“Try not to buy food products that are packaged in cartons that are difficult to recycle (eg. tetrapak). Buy drinks in recyclable containers.”

Surely the people that wrote this must know that tetrapaks are recyclable?!? Perhaps not, maybe I should write to them and remind them.

Anyway, I am resigned to the fact that we will not be zero-waste since we have no access to composting, being in a flat and no access to the garden, and with no council green waste collection (unlike those with brown bins in Hackney, lucky people).

Nevertheless, I’ve drawn up a list of “almost zero waste” meals, which, while not completely waste free, are meals that require as little packaging and waste as I could think of (take a look, my meal plan is all colour-coded and everything!).  If you have any ideas or suggestions do let me know!

watch your waste week

September 27th, 2008 by admin

Watch your waste week logoI’ve signed up to take part in watch your waste week from 4 – 12 October.  So this week will be “business as usual”, to monitor how much rubbish we produce in a usual week, and the week after we’ll be trying to reduce waste as much as possible.  Should be interesting!

green bags are only a start

September 10th, 2008 by admin