Last year, our team member, Rachel Browne, decided to commit to one eco-friendly change per month for her and her family. Here’s what she learned and her recommendations for 2020:
At the beginning of last year I decided that I wanted to take my response to climate change more seriously. We are seeing the effects of climate change in the countries that we work in at Team Hope and while drastic changes are needed at government and policy level, there are also lots of ways we can help on an individual level, even at home.
We have small children and not a whole lot of spare time but we committed to getting started, even if it was just small changes and that’s where the idea of one change a month came from. There’s a certain amount of research time needed so one topic month what I found manageable!
A year on, I am no expert in eco-friendly living and there are definitely more changes we want to make, but we have started and we have learned so, so much along the way. We have even learned a lot about how eco-friendly products affect our health and well-being, something that we hadn’t really thought about before!
So, I should start with the fact that, our changes do not include going vegan (I know!). We made this choice as it is the best one for us as a family at the moment. In saying that our first change was to cut down on meat in our diets. We found a local source for the beef and eggs that we do eat at a farm where animals are pasture raised (we live in Dublin so it shouldn’t be too difficult to do this no matter where you are). This choice also saves us money and is better for our health! We have loved introducing loads of beans, nuts and new veggies to our diets too.
We live in a small apartment and so we don’t have a lot of space to grow our own food or to keep a cow! We do have a very, very small outdoor space (a 4ft x 2ft “balcony” sort of thing) and we have found that you can do a lot with a small space! Instead of buying grow bags (more buying!), we used old worn reusable shopping bags to grow onions and potatoes and we also fit in a tomato planter. We used hanging flower boxes to grow herbs as we have no windows in our kitchen so can’t grow anything in there. Now it was a bit hit and miss, the potatoes got a disease of some kind despite being on the 1st floor away from other plants and trees, so that was disappointing but the tomatoes did great and the herbs too. If we can do it anyone can!
Is recycling the answer?
We started with this one and have made several changes to our mindset along the way. We weren’t great at it due to the lack of space but we have introduced more bins. More recently we have been focusing on reducing and reusing and not relying on recycling to get get rid of our waste. If we don’t need it we don’t buy it and if we do need it we try to reuse.
Examples: Bread wrappers for bringing lunch to work or as veg bags in the supermarket, saving jars and tubs for storage and using milk cartons to grow herbs. We pass on or donate clothes and we get clothes passed on to us.
Buying and buying LESS
We do a lot of our grocery shopping and other shopping online to cut down the number of cars on the road. This has saved us money too!
We really didn’t want to fall into the trap of buying unnecessary replacements because they are labelled eco-friendly and look nice! We have so far avoided the beeswax wraps (sandwiches are already going into a lunchbox!), special jars for storing rice and things (we use washed out peanut butter jars for almost everything!) & metal straws (we just say no to straws). The changes we made taught us to be mindful of consumerism along the way. We have also focused on buying Irish too. We have loved finding small retailers that we can support and learn from.
Early on I realised that using natural products was not just good for the environment but good for us! Studies show that what we put on our bodies is absorbed and so chemicals from shampoos and soaps are going right in there and having an effect on our health. Honestly, this was news to me! We immediately cut out soap by switching to Dr. Bonners pure liquid Castillo soap. (We did try fab solid soaps from Irish company Three Hill Soaps but I couldn’t cope with the mess, having two small kids!). Dr. Bonner’s lasts for months and you dilute it with water so you can reuse old soap dispensers for that. We use it for the kids hair and as shower gel too! We haven’t given up shampoos altogether yet but I do recommend looking into that.
We also started visiting refill shops for cleaning products. These can be hard to find but if you keep your eyes out you WILL find them. They are plentiful (although we’d love to see even more) and once you start this process you’ll start to notice people and places near you that are on a similar journey!
We switched to bamboo toothbrushes and cut out plastics like clingfilm for lunches, single-use water bottles, straws and vegetable bags in shops.
Natural deodorant is next on the list and I make mine myself. It’s cost effective, natural and so far no one has told me it’s not working! There’s a learning curve to this one (stick with it!) but it’s fun if you like to make things. Otherwise there are loads on the market.
Cleaning our air
We have introduced lots of plants to our home after researching those that are best for cleaning the air. I haven’t even killed them all yet! This is such a small change for the environment but it is a change and it’s good for us too. We have also stopped burning scented candles and switched to beeswax candles which are not made from paraffin and which produce negative ions, improving our air quality. They also encourage bee-keeping!
Switching energy provider
This is one I’m actually going to tackle this month! It turns out it’s such an easy switch to make! We have used Switcher.ie’s green energy comparison to compare energy providers and have found that we can save money by switching too!
Mine: Start slowly and enjoy it. Climate change is something to take seriously but these changes will also benefit you right now.
Talk to people because there is a community of people out there, all doing the same things, alone. If you find others, it’s so much more fun to take this journey together!
TV: We found David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ on Netflix really hard-hitting, we would definitely recommend it. Watch the short behind-the-scenes portions at the end of each episode too!
Advice: https://www.facebook.com/365EcoDecisions/ . This Facebook blog has been a wealth of information. If you’re short on time and wish someone would do all of the product and idea testing for you, this is for you!
Recipes: The Happy Pear website and the library. I get loads of vegan cookbooks from the library and haven’t had to buy ANY! The Part-time Vegan is one I really like at the moment.