Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Summary of Suggested Actions (1)

Here's a summary of the actions I've suggested so far that you could take to improve your life and make the world a better place.   If you can manage to do one of these you'll have taken the first step on the path to a greener and more generous life.

If you don't feel able to anything suggested so far, or do all these things already, don't worry there will be more suggestions over the next month, and hopefully many more months to come. 

1) Buy less.  This will almost certainly save you money and reduce the clutter in your home, not to mention reducing the amount you waste.  It will also mean you are using less of the world's precious resources unnecessarily, so there will be more to go round for everyone else.

2) Switch it off when it's not in use.  It can save you money as well as helping Planet Earth.  

3) Green your cleaning.  This could be good for your health and it's certainly better for the health of that part of the planet which you live in.

4) Smile more. You'll feel better for it and you might make friends along the way.

5) Waste less.  It will save you money and the planet will be happier for it.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Waste Not . . .

Rag rug made from scraps of material
'Waste not, want not', my grandmother used to say. When she was growing up money was very tight and so nothing was thrown away without first considering if it could be put to some use or other. With no crisps or snacks between meals people were hungry and ate everything on their plate that could be eaten. Clothes were mended until they couldn't be mended any more and then they might well be ripped up to make pieces for rag rugs.  She continued to be frugal throughout her life, although she could also be generous.

In contrast as a young adult and new home-maker I happily bought plastic pots to store dry goods in the larder and leftovers in the fridge. To my mind they looked so much smarter than my mum's margarine tubs and other re-used containers.  Although we weren't well off and in many ways I was fairly thrifty, there were standards I felt I had to keep.

At some point in my 40's I began to wake up to the fact that the way my generation and much of my parents' generation was behaving was not so smart as all that and it was causing us big problems.

Readjusting my thinking about what is acceptable has been a slow process, however and one that is still ongoing. For instance, while now I do re-use plastic ice-cream tubs when we have them, it has only occurred to me as a result of writing this that I should probably consider using a few margarine tubs for leftovers and maybe I didn't need to buy quite so many 'smart' plastic pots recently, although the kids may find a few of them useful when they go off to university this Autumn.

Most of us have been infected by this disease, the seeds have been sown in our minds from an early age by advertisements in magazines and on TV and billboards. The prevailing culture tells us that we are better people if we have filled our homes with bright, shiny things, but the good news is that there is a cure. We can think differently and will not become lesser people because of it, although it may require a little effort on our part and take a little time.

We can start by giving more thought to what we buy, asking ourselves if we really need it. If we need it, how long will we need it for? Sometimes we only need things for a short while and could borrow or hire one. If we need it for longer, it helps to consider if this one will last or is it likely to be no good in a year or less, in which case would it be worth it to pay a bit more for a better one that will last longer.

Then when we stop needing things, we need to think about whether we could re-use it for something else, for instance margarine or ice-cream tubs can be used for all sorts of things, or whether someone else could use it in which case we could take it to a charity shop or try to sell it.

Some things have no more use, but that doesn't mean they should go straight in the rubbish bin. They might be better off in the compost bin, or it might be possible to recycle them. Recycling isn't ideal as a lot of energy is used to recycle some things, but it is better than throwing everything into a huge landfill site to pollute the environment for who knows how long.

Best of all is to Reduce the amount of rubbish we bring into our home, whether as unnecessary packaging or as cheap, shiny objects we didn't really need or that break in a short while.

Second best is to think about how much we can re-use for other purposes, such as using toilet roll-holders to grow leeks.

Thirdly we need to consider if what we are about to throw away can be composted or recycled.

This is just an overview of a very big subject, which I intend to return to and break down into bite-sized chunks.

A couple of good blogs dedicated to rubbish and ways to reduce it are
The Rubbish Diet
and My Zero Waste.

If you have come across other helpful blogs on the subject of rubbish or have anything to say about waste in general please feel free to use the comments facility provided.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Brighten up the World with a Smile

Here's a very easy idea that will cost you very little and will instantly make the world a better place: smile.

I'm not suggesting that you get yourself arrested grinning inanely at every passer-by, nor that you pretend you are happy when you are not, but when you greet someone, give them a genuine, friendly smile to make them feel they count and somebody cares about them. Smiling will make you feel better and cheer up the person you smile at. Smiles can be infectious, too, soon everybody could be smiling just because of your one smile.

“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, 'Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life'

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Green Your Cleaning (1)

Our CO2 emissions are not the only aspect of our lifestyle that has a negative impact on our environment. So much of what we do can damage the environment in other ways if we are not careful.

When we wash ourselves or our clothes, or do the washing up with a regular product we are probably sending phosphates into the water system and these can upset the balance of life in our rivers and streams as too many phosphates cause an algae bloom that can smother the surface and reduce the oxygen in the water, so causing the death of fish and other creatures living in the water.  Excessive phosphates caused the Great Lakes of America to suffer an ecological disaster in the 1960's and 1970's.  Perhaps this was the cause of the stinking mass of rotting fish in Lake Ontario, which I experienced first hand as a child in the mid '60's. This and similar problems with water pollution caused manufacturers to change the types of detergent they used, in Britain at least.

Some additives in regular detergents are potentially hazardous to the environment while others can cause people irritation and allergic reactions. These include enzymes, optical bleaches, foaming agents and synthetic colourings and perfumes

To make sure we are causing as little pollution as possible when we clean up, it is best to choose plant-based products, which are as natural as possible such as washing up liquid, dishwasher detergent, washing powder and laundry liquid made by companies like Bio-D, Clear Spring from Faith in Nature, Earth Friendly (sold by Green Brands in the UK), Ecoleaf, or Ecover.

This is a very straight forward thing to do, which should not involve much effort. True, the green detergents may cost you a little bit more financially, but to calculate the total cost of any product it's impact on the environment and our own health has to be taken into account as well.

Ecover products are available widely in supermarkets, while the other makes tend to be sold in Health Food shops. Some people prefer to avoid Ecover products since they carried out tests on water fleas a few years ago as this is a form of animal testing. It seems they may also have carried out tests on the blood of farmed rabbits.  According to their list of ingredients their washing up liquids, laundry liquids and possibly other products contain Sodium Laureth Sulfate, a detergent derived from petroleum based products, which can be an irritant and may be harmful in other ways.

Currently I use Bio-D washing-up liquid  as the company is based in the UK as well as filling all the other criteria I require. For washing my clothes I use Ecoleaf laundry liquid as it dissolves well and I like the smell, which is not milky like some. This is a relatively new product from the Suma Co-op.

It is possible to buy many of these products in 5 litre containers from which you can refill the bottle you keep by the sink and some Health Food shops provide a refill service so you could take a re-usable container of your choice along.

If you are trying to avoid using plastic bottles at all you can use soap nuts instead of your usual laundry liquid or soap powder Soap nuts are the pods from the Sapindus Mukorossi, a tropical tree native to India and southern China. These pods contain a high level of saponin, which is a natural detergent.

You can also make a kind of washing up liquid from them. According to the soap pod website you can make washing up liquid from them in the following way:

Put 15 whole Soap pods or equivalent
and 2 litres of water
in a heavy bottom pan and bring to the boil. Be careful, as they will boil over like milk! Put a lid on and simmer very gently for 10-20 mins. Leave overnight. This is enough for a normal liquid for cars and floors etc.

For all other cleaning you need to make a stronger concentration, so the next day repeat the same; bring to the boil then simmer for 10-20 mins. The liquid should then be deep golden colour.

When cool strain well through sieve in to a jug and decant into plastic bottles.
The liquid will keep 4-8 weeks depending on how much light and heat gets to it so try to store out of sunlight.

If you wish your the liquid to have a smell you can add a few drops of an essential oil such as orange or lemon grass.

This is something I've been meaning to try, but haven't got round to yet.  I bought my soap nuts from Summer Naturals, but there seem to be a number of outlets on-line.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Switch it off

I expect you have heard about 'Climate Change'. Sometimes people also talk about 'Global Warming', but this is not an accurate name for what is happening to our planet's climate. The most accurate name for it might be 'Climate Chaos' as basically the weather patterns all over the world are becoming more disrupted by increasing levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere, so we see more droughts in one part of the world and torrential rain causing flooding in another with more frequent hurricanes in yet another.

You may not be sure that any of this is really happening, but weather reports from around the world don't leave much room for doubt. The only thing we can't be 100% sure about is why it is happening but, whatever some people say, the evidence seems to point to human beings having a lot to do with it as the film 'An Inconvenient Truth' (available as a DVD from some libraries) explains very clearly. You can see a trailer of dramatic highlights on YouTube. There is also a book available.

As the way you and I live is almost certainly causing a lot of problems for a lot of people and could soon (in our lifetime) bring about even more extreme weather conditions in the UK, I want to do what I can to reduce my impact on the climate and if enough people do the same before it's too late, then perhaps things won't turn out as badly as some people fear. Perhaps in time we can even reverse some of the worse effects of climate change – if we make a real effort before it's too late.

Even if you're not convinced what you do will make much difference to the world, saving energy will make a difference to your bank balance, as saving energy saves money at the same time.

One really simple thing we can do,to save energy and money, is to turn off the lights when we leave a room, assuming that we aren't leaving someone else in the dark and we aren't just popping out to make a cup of tea and coming back in a few minutes.
Switching lights off once we've finished using them can save us £10* a year.

However, switching light bulbs on and off too often shortens their life, which is why I suggest you make sure that neither you nor anyone else wants to go back to that room for a reasonable length of time such as 10 to 15 minutes. 

Likewise switching off all our electrical appliances, including mobile phone, shaver and battery chargers when we are not using them will also save us money as well as reducing our carbon footprint.

Switching off items such as televisions and computers rather than leaving them on standby for hours on end could save you a further £30 a year.*

Don't worry if you forget more often than you remember to start with, it takes time to get into new habits.  I've found many of these things are second nature now, but it took a while to develop these new habits.

* According to figures on the Energy Saving Trust website.