'Our actions do matter... Taken together, they send signals to big business and to government that things must change'
Louise Tennekoon, a Bishop's Stortford stay-at-home mother of two with 20 years' experience of working in sustainability, writes about all things green...
It’s hard to ignore all the brouhaha there’s been about our use of plastics over the past year or two. First there was David Attenborough, commanding the nation’s attention with Blue Planet II. Now we have Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani bouncing around our screens, urging us to strip off packaging at the supermarket and root out the single-use plastics in our homes.
I decided it was time to start making the switch away from single-use plastics and to start cleaning up our eco-act generally.
In our family of four – stay-at-home mum, GP dad, Saffron, 8, and Seb 5, – we stick as much in the blue recycling bin as possible. I feel pretty good about the fact that most of the waste that once went in the black bin now goes in the blue (although I do have nagging questions about where that recycling ends up – I’ll be exploring this soon, so watch this space). And yet our general waste bin is still full of – yes, you’ve guessed it – single-use plastic.
What I’ve found is that making the swap isn’t always easy. Once you start digging, it can be hard to work out what’s really best for the environment.
Take milk. Surely reusable glass bottles from the milkman are a better choice than recyclable plastic from the supermarket, right? But a quick trawl through the internet and I find it’s more complicated than that. What about the energy used to produce the heavier glass bottles? And to sterilise them and move them around? What about the extra journeys? The more I read, the more confused I became and I put off the decision to another day.
Which made me think. BK (before kids) I spent 20 years working in sustainability, travelling the world investigating global supply chains for the likes of B&Q and M&S. We looked into the environmental impacts of their products and the impact on people and tried to make things better. So I should know a bit about this stuff, and yet... I still find myself flummoxed when it comes to choosing one product over another.
There is one thing that always seems to be the right thing to do: just use less or, as my grandmother would have put it, ‘all things in moderation’ and ‘make do and mend’. I remember that she used to have a little gadget (ironically it was made of plastic) in which she collected all the ends of bars of soap that were too small to wash with, and used it to swill around in a basin of water to eke it out to the very end. Sounds archaic? Tell that to the YouTubers posting videos of how to crochet your own soap saver.
So out of this confusion, the idea for this column was born. I will share our journey to reducing our middle-class impact on this glorious planet, including the bumpy bits when we will (inevitably) get it wrong.
When I find something great, I’ll tell you about it. When I find something that needs to change in our community and nationally, I’ll tell you about that too – and I invite you to do the same. Together we’ll wade through the complex and the confusing, look at some of the big issues and connect them to what’s happening right here in Bishop’s Stortford.
By now, you may be thinking 'Why bother? I’m just one person, one household. What does it matter what I do?' I've pondered this one long and hard. And here is where I’ve got to.
Our actions do matter. They can help and inspire others. Taken together, our actions add up and send signals to big business and to government that we’re fed up with words and that things must change. Small daily actions are not in and of themselves enough, but they are a place to start.
To borrow the words of climate action charity 10:10, every action "is a small act of leadership; an expression of commitment, and a message about the kind of world we want to live in".
It also means that when, in 10 or 20 years' time, my children ask me ‘What did you do about the mess the world is in, Mum?’, I’ll have an answer.
This week’s swap: Toilet roll
You don’t need trees to make toilet roll. We love ‘Who Gives a Crap?’, unbleached toilet paper made from either sustainable bamboo or recycled office paper, wrapped in cheery paper wrapping and delivered direct to your door. Its double-length rolls work out at a very competitive 18.8p per 100 sheets and are surprisingly soft. Best of all, 50% of all profits go to providing toilets for the 2.3 billion people in the world (yes, you read that right) who don’t have access to a toilet. See https://uk.whogivesacrap.org