Making your home more eco-friendly is an incremental process. Like many families, we started by being more careful about the items we put in the recycling bin, next we started our compost heap then made a conscious effort to reduce the plastic packaging we buy.
They are all small steps that each have their own cumulative impact. But short of knocking the house down and building a completely sustainable, carbon neutral, ultra-efficient living pod, it can be difficult to find more ideas for living a more environmentally friendly life.
Luckily, running Norfolk Natural Living means I get to meet and talk to lots of like-minded people - both in real life and on the internet. The conversation inevitably turns to sharing tips for living a more sustainable home life.
Here are my five favourite tips from people I have met in the last year. Plus an extra half-tip that I liked the thought of but didn’t really warrant a section all of its own.
Importantly, none of these are massive lifestyle changes. Part of sustainability (in my mind) is that it also has to be sustainable for you and your family. If you wanted to have the absolute least possible environmental impact, you could live in a hole in the ground with no electricity, no car and only eat raw vegetation. But you aren’t going to do that. Remember to keep your goals incremental.
1 - get your shopping delivered
I love this tip because it is convenient and eco-friendly!
A lady came into our shop and said that she only ever goes to independent shops and buys little things for around the house - and only does that once or twice a month when she is going into town to do something else (on this occasion, she was meeting a friend for lunch). She does her full weekly shop online.
Initially, this seemed like a slightly odd environmental tactic. Delivery vans are big, heavy and presumably not very eco-friendly. To explain her theory, she used this analogy:
Think of supermarket delivery vans as if they were buses. If you look at a bus out of context, it is a big, ugly, fume-pumping machine. But put it in context and every person on that bus might otherwise be in a car. Dividing the pollution caused by that bus by the people on the bus, suddenly, it looks like a perfectly sustainable solution.
Now replace your bus with a supermarket delivery van.
Divide the pollution caused by that van by the number of people who would otherwise have driven to the supermarket individually.
Soon you start to see that ordering your weekly shop online and having it delivered is a far more sustainable solution.
Clearly, this can pose other problems. Namely, it is harder to avoid unnecessary packaging and choose foods with a good use-by date. If you have any good tips for avoiding that, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
2 - microwave your food
Please don’t panic! I am not about to suggest that we all go back to the ‘70s and subject our families to awful, mushy microwave food.
There are plenty of delicious things you can cook in the microwave. The advantages of this are enormous from an energy perspective.
Your oven, even if you have a fancy one, is highly inefficient.
Not only is it heating up a lot of air to cook a small piece of food, you also have to turn it on beforehand and wait for it to come to temperature.
A microwave, on the other hand, is ultra-efficient by nature. It works by heating the water particles in your food (using radiation - not as scary as it sounds!) so it is only expending energy where it is needed. There is no pre-heating necessary and food can be cooked far quicker.
Granted, you aren’t going to be zapping your Sunday dinner but there are plenty of delicious meals you can cook in the microwave.
3 - get into gardening
when I lived in London, my garden was a few plant pots on a windowsill.
Then we moved to Norfolk and finally had space to plant some borders, nail up some bird houses and have an actual lawn.
It was nice. A functional space for my children to play in. But it was quite wasteful - it didn’t produce anything. And there was nowhere really for the wildlife to hide and thrive.
To counter this, we created a kitchen garden where we grow lettuce, green beans and tomatoes.
Admittedly, it didn’t make us self-sufficient… but everyone has to start somewhere and it was a great way to introduce our children to the notion of growing your own. We are going to expand the range in 2020 to try and grow a good proportion of our vegetables in the garden.
Elsewhere in the garden, we marked of a section that we nicknamed the meadow. We stopped cutting the grass in that area and sprinkled a pack of wildflower seeds. It has created a lovely area for the wildlife to thrive. There are even frogs jumping around in there (much to my 6-year-old’s delight).
Finally, don’t forget the bees! As well as our wildflower meadow, my children and I followed this guide from the RSPB to make our garden as bee friendly as possible.
4 - donate your old clothes
This sounds like an odd suggestion to make on a blog post about being more environmentally friendly. We all know that donating to charity shops is good for society - but how is it also good for the planet?
Think back to the maths we did in the section about having your shopping delivered.
Creating clothes has an enormous environmental impact. Each cotton t-shirt you own took about 20,000 litres of water to produce. Mixed into that water is all sorts of dye, bleach and the pesticides used to grow the cotton.
Now let’s do some maths. If you wear the t-shirt ten times, that is still 2,000 litres of water per wear.
I enjoy rummaging through charity shops. Some of my favourite items of clothing are second hand. If something no longer fits me, or if I just can’t see myself wearing it anymore - I will often donate it to the Cats Protection charity shop in my village.
Because each use of a piece of clothing makes it more environmentally efficient, donating something to a charity shop where it will be bought and used by somebody else goes a long way to reducing your own impact.
5 - use sustainable cleaning products
This blog isn’t a sales pitch so I won’t dwell too long on this point. Other than to say that we produce natural, sustainable cleaning products which you can use around the home in a guilt-free way.
Lots of the cleaning products in your cupboards at the moment contain chemicals like ammonia and bleach. As well as being bad news for your lungs, these chemicals are harmful to aquatic life once they are washed down your drains.
By using natural cleaning products (or even making your own), you can clean your home thoroughly without polluting the planet with harmful chemicals.
6 - bonus tip
This one came from a man I met in a bookshop in Edinburgh. He asked me what I do and I told him about Norfolk Natural Living.
Almost defensively, he told me that he feels guilty about the number of trees which must have been felled to fill his shop with books. But he did offer an easy solution which I felt fits in nicely with this post.
Second hand books.
It’s so simple, it didn’t really warrant its own chapter. But again, it goes back to the mathematics that we have done twice already.
Every time a book is read, the manufacturing process becomes more efficient. Because you will likely only read a book once or twice, why wouldn’t you donate it to a charity shop or sell it on?
Similarly, buying books second hand (even Amazon is a good source of second hand books - though nothing beats the smell and atmosphere of a good bookshop) is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of your hobby.