Good morning to you. And yes, randomly, I’m here again.
Of course, I’ve always been here. Just not in this online space. I’m spending more time on Instagram these days, and I can see why so many people have migrated there away from writing blogs. It’s so quick and easy to do, so immediate. I can take a photo and post it quickly and easily from my phone. Whereas writing a blog post requires more of me. More thought, more time, more energy, more planning.
I don’t even know who, if anyone, is still reading my blog when I get round to writing it, whereas feedback on Instagram tends to be as swift and responsive as posting is.
However, I made a decision to continue with the blog, and continue I shall.
Life has both moved on and stayed the same since my last post. The political situation has become even more clearly awful, with daily tales of political corruption and incompetence alongside the car crash of COP26. So I thought today I’d focus on the positives, because they’re the things that get us through.
First of all, we are fortunate indeed to live in a wealthy country where we have been able to have Covid vaccinations, free at the point of delivery. I know that we’re in a small minority across the world, and I value it.
So far as the climate emergency goes, I can only do what I can do. It’s hard to let go of the bigger picture, and I’m not someone who is going to devote my every living moment to the issue (and I know there are some of those, braver than I am) so I have to simultaneously know that we are currently on a path to disaster and know that alone I can’t change a thing. Which is why I’m constantly alert to moments in my day when I can make changes in how I do things that are consistent with my knowledge and if adopted by all would really make a significant change; and to the opportunities to share those changes. I guess if I’m honest, that mainly what drives me to write this blog: to both share and to learn how we can do things differently in our own small lives.
Looking back over the years since I began writing this blog I can see that I have made many changes that at the time felt difficult but over time became completely absorbed into my normal life and unremarkable. This has accelerated in the last two years, perhaps because Covid has provided more time for reflection and reconsideration. Here are a few that might give you some ideas of things you might do differently, and I’d love to hear from you with other solutions you’ve found.
Mains water use
Since 2011 (so over 10 years) we have reduced our mains water use by just over 30%. According to our latest water bill our average daily use is now around around 43% of the national average for a 2-person household. Yet there’s nothing remarkable about how we use mains water.
- We keep ourselves clean just as most people do (but we don’t take daily showers, we take shallow baths, and we share the water)
- We wash our clothes regularly (but only when they’re dirty, and in a machine when there’s a full load)
- We water the garden (but never with mains water – I’ve installed 4 large water butts which are sufficient for any watering, and I’ve chosen drought-tolerant plants and mulch beds whenever I can)
- We don’t let taps run unless we’re using the water, and in dry spells collect the water that runs cold before the hot comes to use it
- We wash almost all of our kitchen dishes in a dishwasher, always with a full load
I know there is more I could do to reduce our water use still further. In particular, I find the use of clean mains water to flush toilets incredibly wasteful. I had a phase when I used collected and used water for toilet flushing, but to be honest it felt like quite a faff. However, now I have more water butts I’m planning to have a month during a rainy time drawing water from these for toilet flushing, just to see how it goes and whether it makes a significant difference. I’m looking for and open to other ideas as well. Given that we’ve already achieved so much with very little effort, I feel confident that we can achieve more. Success breeds success.
I think I can count this as a definite win. We have massively reduced both what goes into our landfill bin (very little!) as well as what goes into our recycling boxes. Over the past few years (maybe 5 years?) I’ve made a huge effort to avoid bringing any new plastic into the house and garden, and this has been a great success. Although some changes needed a good deal of thought, others are incredibly simple and require no effort at all. As much as possible I’ve tried to create circular systems where we bring as little as possible into the house, and reuse whatever we can.
- Cling film – I rarely ever used this in the past, and it must be decades since we last bought any. Instead we use containers with lids, or small saucers or plates for containers without lids. In fact, I can’t think what would induce anyone to use cling film. We have plastic bags that we’ve had for years and we reuse over and over again, but these could easily be replaced with waxed cloths for eg sandwich wrapping, and I occasionally use greaseproof paper, which I compost after use
- Plastic food containers – there are just 4 things I still buy in plastic, and if I’m honest I could with a little effort cease to do so. They are organic carrots (I know, the irony of buying something organic wrapped in plastic! I need to find other carrots I’ll enjoy eating); cheaper cheese for cooking (I need to look around for somewhere that sells it cut from a large block, or do without); ground coffee (I guess the better option would be to buy loose beans and grind them myself – something to explore I think); and dried pasta (I like a particular brand that’s not available loose but maybe I should try some of the loose pasta available locally). That’s not to say that no other plastic food containers come into the house, but I’m only responsible for my own choices
- Plastic milk containers – the biggest change I’ve made is in my milk consumption. When I did a count I was horrified to see how many plastic milk containers I was responsible for. I vowed to end it. The first change I made was to drastically reduce the amount of milk I use – halved from around 2 litres a week to barely 1 litre. Then I found somewhere I could buy milk in reusable bottles. As a bonus, this was direct from a local organic farm. So for the past 2 years or so I have cut out all those plastic containers. The downside was that only whole milk was available, and that’s not acceptable to all but it was a compromise I was happy to make, particularly as I now consume all my milk as home-made yoghurt. I know this wouldn’t suit everyone, and we each make our own decisions about what works for us personally. Now there’s a milk machine being installed very close to home by another small local farm, and once it’s up and running I will switch to buying my milk there. It’s in easy walking distance. The farmer drives the milk into Bath daily, a round trip of around 24 miles – but that’s all the food miles for many households
- Plastic film from food containers – our local Coop shop now has a container where they collect this for recycling, so when we have any of this we collect it up and once a week drop it into the Coop
- Food cans – because we cook almost everything from scratch, I use very few of these. Our biggest can consumption is tomatoes, and I think it would take quite a change to be able to move away from this. We also have baked beans, and occasionally canned fish (mackerel in tomato sauce is a particular favourite). All other beans are bought dried, cooked in bulk, then used immediately or frozen
- Aluminium foil – this is the last remaining thing in the kitchen I’ve been reducing my use of and want to eliminate. I know it can be (and is) recycled, and we also wash and reuse it whenever possible. But I also know that making it requires a huge amount of energy, and I assume that so does recycling it. The answer is often simple: cook in a container with a lid, and take the lid off when it’s no longer needed. Duh! We have lots of oven-proof containers with lids. It’s a long time since I last used a new piece of foil
- Paper towel – something else I haven’t used for years now. I keep a box of clean cotton cloths handy in the kitchen, and they’re there to use for any spills or wiping that needs to happen. There’s a second box next to it to pop any dirty cloths in ready for washing. Any that are too dirty to be washed can simply go into the kitchen compost bin. The cloths are mostly cotton tea towels that are past their best and I’ve cut into small pieces
- Food waste – there are only two things that go into our food waste bin (which is collected weekly by the council). These are used tea bags (Malcolm uses these but they have plastic in them so don’t rot down in the compost. I got fed up with fishing out tea-bag skeletons from my compost…); and animal bones (after they’ve been boiled for stock and picked clean). We seldom waste any food at all – we’re good about remembering what’s in the fridge and using it up; ‘leftovers’ are generally planned for another meal rather than being truly left over. Any vegetable and fruit peelings are fed to the hens, composted, or fed to the worms in the 2 worm bins I keep in the garden. Egg shells are kept and baked in the oven then crushed and fed back to the hens (extra calcium for their diet)
- Paper – we save clean paper (eg envelopes, bills, catalogues, magazines…) and once a month I shred it all and use it as bedding for the hens. Anything dirty can go into the compost bin.
- Glass – again, very little goes into our recycling box. Cooking from scratch means that we don’t buy much in jars. When we do, we either keep the jars for reuse (all our spice and herb jars, and the jars I use for preserves and for storing dried groceries are ones we’ve had for years). Wine bottles with screw-top lids go to youngest son for use by the farm for bottling apple juice in the autumn. Which leaves occasional wine bottles with corks and empty marmite jars
You might think all of this is a huge faff, but really it is just normal life and mostly requires no effort at all, just a change of mindset and then a change of buying habits.
All of which goes to explain how in an average month we have around 1 small carrier bag not full of rubbish that goes into our landfill bin. It’s collected once a fortnight, but as there’s so little in it, I usually only leave it out for emptying once a month or sometimes every six weeks.