That’s the thing about sustainability, it’s just so darn nice to look at. Alternatives to plastic are usually far more beautiful as well as kinder to the pocket and the environment. According to the Greenpeace Energy desk news, the UK government quietly reduced recycling targets for plastics last year- meaning that even more plastic is finding its way in to landfill.
Concern over plastic in our food is highlighted in the BBC’s ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor ‘ – in the programme scientists drew attention to how plastic leeches into our food and disrupts our endocrine system, or in other words, our hormones. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. The episode particularly drew attention to the need for pregnant women to be careful about eating food wrapped in plastic.
A great start to reducing plastics at home begins with swapping your single use items for their more beautiful alternatives:
Bamboo toothbrushes ( available from here), baking soda, body lotion ( made by the lovely Clare) and crocheted cotton rounds.
Cloth napkins, tea towels, knitted dishcloths and cotton food covers.
gorgeous bamboo sanitary towels, made in the UK from recycled fabric
Soft, laundered vintage handkerchiefs
Air fresheners and medicine cabinet.
These lovely items enhance our home environment and ensure that no waste is generated. If properly cared for, these items should serve us for many years to come ( and personally they just make me smile every time I use them).
Living with fewer possessions brings benefits to both our mental and physical health.
I lived in North America for five years, working as a nanny for a wealthy family. The house in which we lived was several thousand square feet and required many staff to maintain and clean; a housekeeper, cleaners, handyman, deep-clean teams, teams to clean the chandeliers, plant maintenance, pool maintenance, car ‘detailer’, gardeners- a seemingly endless stream of people coming and going from the house. Living there certainly crystallised my ideas on living in large homes, it wasn’t for me.
When my husband and I moved to the UK we lived in a small apartment (furnished with the obligatory van load of Swedish flat-packed furniture). It took mere minutes to clean, a quick sweep with the hoover, a scrub of the bathroom and a light dust took a fraction of our time. It cost us little to maintain and insure and we were able to work on a self employed basis with no fear that we would struggle to meet our living costs. As we stayed longer, our landlady requested a rent rise and, after seeing her drive up in a brand new Audi, we decided that it was time to invest in a home of our own.
We learned a lot of lessons in our first year of home ownership; maintaining a hundred year old house took a lot of money, especially when its former owners had resorted to the cheapest fixtures and fittings. Our aspirations of a beautifully decorated interior were soon drowned in the reality of the expense involved in rewiring old sockets, supporting Victorian chimneys (where former owners had ripped out fireplaces) and generally keeping things in working condition. Home ownership was an expensive and time consuming business.
We learned that decorating took a lot of time and effort and rarely transformed our rooms in the way we had envisioned. As with any older house , one job would inevitably throw up other problems to resolve, plaster falling off stripped walls, floorboards butchered by 100 years worth of plumbing and wiring. Gradually we sold our modern flat-pack furniture on ebay and replaced it with much less expensive second hand furniture which seemed more suitable for our older home.
When our baby boy arrived last year we prepared a new room for him to grow into, changing the large double for a day bed and providing shelves for toys and books. Decorating the room took the form of new cushions and bunting attached to the cornice as well as a few simple toys ready for him to use and enjoy.
Nothing prepares you for life with a baby and just how much time is spent caring for them and interacting with them. Our days became very full and chores such as hoovering, dusting and laundry were tackled at speed. We began to resent chores which seemed to be unnecessarily time consuming such as dusting all of the china on our welsh dresser and moving multiple items to dust and vacuum around them. The house, which had once felt so cosy and homely, now felt like a large obstacle course, full of items which were adding an inordinate amount of time to our daily routine. Added to this, there seemed to be a constant influx of toys and equipment for baby and, despite our best efforts, these seemed to multiply daily.
Around this time I started to read and follow some simple living blogs and podcasts, convinced that there had to be a easier way of life. Gradually we de-cluttered pieces of furniture, clothes, books and ornaments, selling or donating them to charity. I sold more than half of the clothes I owned and got rid of a triple wardrobe. I sold all of the china on our Welsh dresser and gave away the top half of the dresser, leaving only the cupboard at the bottom. As each item left our home, the effect was instant, the atmosphere seemed calmer, the air fresher and my mood lighter. I found time to garden and read again, activities which I had previously had no time for.
Items which we sold or donated helped to give us more money towards our holiday in Wales and numerous trips out with our baby boy. As we carved more and more space for our family in our home we felt better and better about ourselves and our house.
As we gradually got rid of possessions which were no longer adding any value to our lives we felt better and better and found more and more items to pass on, de-cluttering becomes quite addictive. Stuff which had sat idle for years will now hopefully be used by its new owners. Resources which would have been used to produce new versions of what we sold and donated will now not need to be extracted and precious energy will not be needed in their manufacture.Most importantly, we now are firmly determined that no more items will enter our home unless they are absolutely essential.
During our recent holiday in Wales we were determined to pack very lightly, just two outfits each ( we had access to laundry ) and two books and a set of blocks for our baby boy. We loved how freeing it felt and how simple it was to pack and transport our luggage. Packing has now become a challenge which we relish, we are determined to pack only carry-on when we visit Canada this summer and, thanks to friends of ours who have generously offered to loan us baby equipment, I think we will manage it. I certainly look forward to a simpler summer.
A small village in North Lancashire is preparing to send an extra special Valentine in 2016.
Knott End, a small village tucked away on a peninsula north of Blackpool, famed only for its brief connection to the painter L.S Lowry (he painted the Knott End ferry during his holidays there) is preparing to demonstrate how much they love their village.
For over a decade, this little place has battled with the energy giant, Halite, fighting to stop this fossil fuel Goliath storing gas in salt caverns under the River Wyre. Despite objections from Lancashire County Council, Wyre Borough Council and Knott End council, not to mention thousands of Wyre residents that the storage scheme could pose significant risks to both people living in the area and the environment, Halite has been given consent.
The proposed scheme is within an area of a large number of homes, a significant concern since similar schemes in the US have resulted in explosions and, in the recent case case of Porter Ranch in the USA, a gas leak that affected the health of thousands of residents and took months to stem. There are also concerns about the impact on the wildlife of Morecambe Bay, (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) as many gallons of highly-concentrated brine are pumped out into the sea. It seems as though these are deemed insignificant against profit and the firm has been given the green light by the current government.
Sadly this scene is becoming only too familiar with families fighting to protect the areas where they live from increasing threats from energy firms, keen to make vast profits at the expense of the environment. It seems incredible that the shareholders of energy firms are deemed more important than clean water, air and land. Fracking opponents point to the millions of gallons of radioactive water produced by hydraulic fracking and the unacceptable risk posed through leaks.
At a time when 195 countries have adopted the first-ever universal, legally-binding global climate deal, the UK government appears short-sighted. As nations strive to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, a unique opportunity to pioneer and boost the renewable energy sector has presented itself. Investment now could reap dividends for many generations to come, not just in terms of the environment but also our economy.
But love will save this place , a true, fearsome love of our land, our air, our water and our love for our children.
‘The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government inevitably underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it.‘
Our village is beloved and we will fight for the safety of its people and our land. As communities come together in their millions in unprecedented grass-roots movements determined to defend their little corner of the globe, they will continue to fight for the land that is theirs. They will battle in the name of love and ultimately, because this is the strongest human motivator, they will win.
(Knott End will be taking its Valentine ( a large collection of postcards) to the energy minister Amber Rudd and my baby boy and I will be with them.)
As a rank outsider, party members had seen Mr. Corbin as an additional candidate who would not gain a large share of the vote, but was necessary to ‘represent’ the left wing opinions within the party. Winning 60% of the vote in a landslide victory, Mr. Corbin took the established stalwart members by surprise.
In a move unprecedented in British politics, labour membership applications (for the mere price of £3) were used by many outsiders to have a say in the selection of the new opposition leader, ensuring that the new leader had views which were in line with environmental and social concerns shared by many.
I for one am delighted that we finally have someone in the House of Commons who is a committed environmentalist and anti-austerity campaigner.
While it could be said that having a baby is not the best thing for the environment, we have certainly tried our best to reduce our little boy’s impact on the planet and build a better future for him. From the outset we were certain that we didn’t want to overwhelm our little house with baby equipment and paraphenalia. We were also determined that we would buy second-hand wherever we could and, where we had no choice; such as a new mattress, we would buy as sustainably as possible.
Fast forward several months later and we do seem to have managed to limit the amount of equipment, although this has sometimes left us feeling ungrateful when we turn down kind offers from friends and family. Most friends and family members know us well enough to ask about what is actually needed, or have sent things which were as green as possible. The generosity of friends and family never fails to amaze us, gifts have included the most thoughtful and useful items, such as moccasins handmade in Canada, stunning hand knitted cardigans and blankets, handmade toys and a wide range of clothes.
Despite not knowing many parents of small children ourselves; being older parents, we were so very fortunate that a friend of my mother loaned us a beautiful crib, as well as passing on numerous toys, clothes and a simply wonderful mobile which plays the theme from Dr. Doolittle. The mobile and a wind up giraffe ( which also plays the same tune) were given to us several months before CC became the musical director for the stage version of Dr. Doolittle, it still makes us smile every time it plays and our little boy simply adores it. The joy that these pre-loved toys give is immeasurable, and certainly trumps just going to a shop and buying new.
Nursery equipment has been purchased mostly second hand, his cot bed was such a bargain and the lady selling it was delighted that another little boy would enjoy the cot after hers had grown out of it. The only items we have bought new were the mattress and protectors which have to be new for the sake of safety, these we bought from The Little Green Sheep company using a generous financial gift from special friends in Canada.
We have also opted for washable nappies which are simply wonderful, really soft and colourful. Unfortunately, despite a thorough search online, I couldn’t buy these second hand, so we opted for the gorgeous designs and durability of Bambino Mio’s two piece nappies. Thanks to a great summer we have been able to line dry these the vast majority of the time and use our trusty wooden clothes horses the rest of the time. (I am not sure how lucky we will be with this during the North’s typically cold and damp winters though, we will certainly try to dry them outdoors as much as we can.)
We also use recycled bamboo fabric as baby wipes which are beautifully soft and are just thrown in the nappy dry bucket to be laundered with the nappies.
Having a new little human being in our home has certainly required some adjustment, when people talked about ‘not getting anything done’ I had assumed that I would be able to organise my way out of the chaos…..how very wrong I was! At three months we are just beginning to get the hang of balancing time with our son and time to grow our vegetables, cook and make. Today I managed to bake rock buns while our little boy was napping and plant winter vegetables such as spinach, winter salad and kale. I am determined that we will have some organic vegetables from our newly remodeled garden during the winter. Living in the north of England means that the hours of daylight considerably reduce from August on wards and this impacts on the length of the growing season, cloches and greenhouses can only retain heat and not provide extra daylight.
It really felt like Christmas yesterday as a parcel of a second hand bundle of baby boys’s clothing arrived, 25 items for £12 ! The most beautiful coat made in France, gorgeous dungarees by Osh Kosh, a fox design jumper to name but a few of the delights. Also included was a wet suit suitable for a 3-6 month old, although I’m not sure he’ll need it, you never know!
The energy industry would have us believe that fracking is a safe procedure which would ensure our ‘energy security’ . Our government is enthusiastically promoting fracking as an answer to our energy needs, pushing forward new licences for much of the UK.
For a fossil fuel company, such as Cuadrilla, its one imperative is to maintain its ‘reserve replacement ratio’, put simply , this means that in order for these companies to maintain and improve their share prices (their ONLY consideration) , they need to constantly seek out new supplies of fossil fuels. It is essential that energy companies have as much fossil fuels in reserve as in their current production if they are to stay in business. These companies will continue to seek out new sources of oil and gas infinitely, continuing to locate new areas to drill and increasingly damaging methods of extraction, such as Alberta’s tar sands and Shell’s attempts to drill in the Arctic.
Without concerted international attempts by governments to restrict these companies they will continue to expand their destruction and increasingly drill using even more environmentally damaging methods. This is the only way in which companies can maintain their share prices, they will never extract enough to be ‘satisfied’.
All of this is devastating news for our planet, aside from the high levels of pollution and environmental damage, scientists now predict a 4 to 6 degree rise in planetary warming if we continue to burn fuels at our current rates. Four degrees of warming would ensure catastrophic rises in global sea levels by a predicted 1 to 2 metres by 2100, condemning much of the coastal areas of Britain, Europe, Asia and The Americas. With this will also come deadly heat waves , flooding and other extreme weather events and a dramatic loss of crop yields globally.
According to 97% of climate scientists , global warming is now significantly impacting our environment. Of the remaining 3%, many are sponsored by right-wing think tanks dedicated to maintaining the status quo of a tiny percentage of the super rich. It’s not hard to see why companies whose very existence relies of the continued extraction of damaging fuels, pump fortunes into defending their drilling rights and ensuring unprecedented access to government.
This is why CC and I changed our energy supplier to one which guarantees 100% of its energy comes from either hydro or wind power. Our gas is guaranteed ‘frack-free’- not perfect since it’s still gas, but a step in the right direction. All of the profits from our energy company are spent on increasing green energy methods. ( see http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/ )
We can only hope that we can apply the brakes and change the direction in which we are travelling for the sake of our little son and his children in time to build a brighter future for the next generation.
* What happened to the summer ? It seemed as though the weeks were endless and September was a world away. Autumn seems to have come early this year and we’ve been making the most of the ripe profusion of blackberries growing in dense pockets in the lanes around our house.
* Making the most of our treasure ; first Blackberry and Bramley jam, next a couple of pies for the freezer and then blackberry sauce to enjoy in yoghurt and on pancakes.
* After a bit of detective work ( messages in bottles) we’ve finally found a milkman who will deliver in glass from a dairy not 1/2 a mile away. After trying to search the internet many times we happened upon empty bottles on local doorsteps and wrote letters which we put into several in the hope that one might reach its intended recipient, we finally got a telephone call from a lovely local farmer ( who said she was not on the internet). Our first lot at 6am was thrilling!
* We’ve set ourselves the challenge to try and get further afield for supplies without the car; using the bikes and our local ferry we have extended our range this summer. This allows us access to a hardware shop, bank and larger grocery stores without using petrol. We’re lucky to have a coastal bike path that is car free with stunning views of our bay. The wind turbines were spinning quickly today in the brisk breeze.
* The large ships from Heysham appear to float on the sand as they make the most of the deeper waters in the tidal channels.
* Making the most of the warm weather we’ve been camping in Northumberland, despite gale force winds on the first night ( we really thought we’d lose the tent on our coastal site)we enjoyed visits to more castles – this time the castle of Lindisfarne on Holy Island. This island is part of the inner Farne islands and accessed via a causeway-( be sure to check the tide tables carefully before embarking or you may find yourself stranded!) The castle itself was an Edwardian gem – furnished by Edward Lutens after being purchased by the owner of Country Life magazine ; the walled garden – a Gertrude Jekyll design- was a true delight and has inspired me to try growing more medicinal flowers in our little garden.
* After spending a few hours making several batches of home made beer ready for Christmas we’ve had a lot of bottles to prepare ! – these made me smile in the castle.
* On our final day we got rather carried away with the romantic setting of Hulne Abbey – (the location of Maid Marion’s House in Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves)