Green Gadgets: Making more eco-friendly tech choices

Quick disclaimer: This post was inspired via a chat on Twitter with the team at Compare and Recycle, who made the excellent infographic below. However, I have no affiliation with them, or any other company mentioned here, and make no financial gains from anything linked in this post.

 

There’s a pretty significant chance that you’re reading this post on a smartphone or tablet. These devices have become firmly embedded in our lives, with over five billion people expected to own a mobile phone by 2019.

Phones and tablets have arguably saved the production of a lot of other materials in what they’ve been able to replace. My phone really isn’t just a phone – it’s my calculator, diary, pedometer, food planner, personal trainer, virtual yoga instructor, note-taker, camera, video, music collection and it provides storage for countless magazines, newspapers and books.

Internationally, mobile phones have leapfrogged a number of older technologies to provide an important role in society. A great example of this is the huge growth of Kenya’s M-PESA mobile money service, which 40% of Kenya’s GDP passes through. The M-PESA service, which started as a microfinance initiative, now allows people to transfer money for services, and offers loans and savings opportunities. The virtual nature of the service has saved many hours of time and money for its users, especially in the most rural areas of the country as they no longer need to take long journeys to physical buildings to access money. You can read more about M-PESA in this Economist article or in Kate Raworth’s excellent book, Doughnut Economics.

But whilst it’s great that our phones have replaced the need for countless bit of other ‘stuff’, there is a huge environmental impact from the production and running of our tech that we do need to address.

tech

Continue reading “Green Gadgets: Making more eco-friendly tech choices”

Virtual Water: An introduction to saving the water you can’t see

I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone knows by now that wasting water is a bad thing. In general, we know we should turn off the tap whilst brushing our teeth, only boil as much water as we need for a cup of tea, and take shorter showers in place of deep baths.

And whilst all of these things are important, they really are (steady yourselves for the upcoming predictable pun) just a drop in the ocean. Evidence suggests that we are approaching a global water crisis:

  • Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and two thirds of that is locked away in glaciers and other inaccessible places.
  • At the current rate of consumption, two thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025.

Source: WWF: Water Scarcity

A global perspective

Earlier this year, there was one news story about the water crisis that really stood out. Cape Town in South Africa is in the midst of a drought, and the city was preparing for the apocalyptic-sounding ‘Day Zero’. This was to be the day the water supply to around one million homes was to be turned off. In its place, residents would have an individual daily allocation of just 25 litres (approx 6.6 gallons), available from water collection points around the city. Continue reading “Virtual Water: An introduction to saving the water you can’t see”

April Round Up

April has been a month of celebrations – big ones, like birthdays and a wedding, and small ones, like the first warm, sunny day and tiny new shoots from planted seeds.

Both my partner and I had our birthdays in April. But we face the same problem – what to buy people who don’t want more ‘stuff’? No plastic tat, no joke presents, nothing just for the sake of it?

Well, we did ourselves proud. I bought N a voucher for a ‘learn to sail day‘, and well… just one little beautiful item for the house, this air plant.

IMG_2327_preview

He loved them! I was equally thrilled with this beautiful cork yoga mat. I’ve recently rediscovered my love for yoga through the wonderful Ange Cooper’s classes, and having a really good mat has actually made me want to practice more often.

Between birthday dinners, cosy gatherings, late nights chatting and drinking wine in the garden, and a big fancy wedding, I’ve felt very grateful for the lovely group of friends I get to share it all with. So this month’s update is less angry environmentalism, and more happiness in the simple pleasures. Continue reading “April Round Up”

Y.O.U. have great underwear!

I think it’s very important that you know that Y.O.U. have the best pants ever.

I’m using the word ‘pants’ in the British sense of the words – underwear, knickers, smalls, undergarments, however you want to call them.

I finished a ‘no new clothes for a year‘ experiment recently. Having not bought any pants in the run-up to the challenge, by the time I finished, my current underwear was looking and feeling a little on the sad side. But after rejecting fast fashion and clothes made in sweatshop conditions for a year, I didn’t want to just head to the high street and undo all that good work.

So I headed to the internet to seek out some smalls. I wanted something plain and black, made with sustainable fabric, by people paid a good wage, supporting a small business. I also wanted them to be practical, smart, non-VPL, comfy, and to feel good. I favour a simple style – I don’t want to be worrying that matching bras and pants sets are washed and dry at the same time. Not asking too much eh?

After my much searching, I’m very happy to let you know that I’ve found the perfect pants, made by British-owned company, Y.O.U. I would like to stress at this point that this post is not sponsored. I wasn’t sent a freebie. I have no connection to this company except as a very happy customer. This review is written purely out of the happiness that only a good pair of pants can bring.

Sarah and Lily set up Y.O.U. after a trip to Uganda, and were shocked at how a lack of access to underwear was preventing women and girls from participating in  education and work. Continue reading “Y.O.U. have great underwear!”

March Round Up

I need to start this month’s round up with an apology for what was essentially a Big Fat Lie. In February’s round-up, I said that spring was coming! In fact, it turned out to be the week before temperatures of -5C (23F), inches of snow, and biting winds even in our usually mild part of the UK, nicknamed by the press as ‘The Beast from the East‘. People were trapped in their cars for hours on end as roads closed, schools shut down and general chaos ensued. That is clearly not spring, is it?

So what better way to celebrate the coldest winter in the UK in 30 years than by going on holiday to even-colder Norway? No better way, as that’s where we went! Two days in beautiful Bergen, followed by four nights in a tiny log cabin on the island of Askøy overlooking a fjord in the North Sea (perfectly located for a cheeky but chilly dip), finished off with a visit to Norway’s first zero waste shop. Amazing, and deserving of a post of its own, coming up soon.

Reading

Holidays are a great time for catching up with reading, and spending some time with Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees whilst surrounded by pristine nature was perfect, although I do wonder if reading it in a cabin built from logs was entirely appropriate. It is beautifully written, and without too much sentimentality it ‘humanised’ trees as beings with social networks, who much like humans have the ability to suffer loss, make bad decisions, plan ahead, and look after each other. A brilliant combination of science, nature and wonder.

I’m going through a bit of a non-fiction renaissance at the moment, and next up is Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. Nothing to do with actual doughnuts, but instead a rewrite of our ‘growth is good’ prevalent economic mindset, with Raworth setting out her proposal for building economies that balance social justice within environmental limits.

Eating

This month we have discovered the recipe to end all recipes…for broccoli. Broccoli? Slightly tasteless, hated by children, reluctantly finished off as the least-exciting part of a Sunday Roast, broccoli? Yes. It turns out if you roast it with some olive oil, chili flakes and lemon juice at 190C for 10-15 minutes, you can build up a two-giant-heads-a-week habit in no time at all. As a source of vitamin A, B6 and C, fibre, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as phytochemicals and antioxidants, surely a recipe which means you’re literally sneaking snacks of it out the fridge as leftovers after eating it with lunch and dinner must be a good thing?

The recipe for this amazing stuff is available here, on Laura’s lovely blog, A Beautiful Plate. I save her suggested addition of cheese for special occasions, because as great as it is, I can’t really claim cheese as a health food.

Blogs

I’ve been offline more than online this month, but a couple of great websites to share nonethless:

Tammy Strobel’s blog, Rowdy Kittens has really helped me remember to celebrate the joy in simple things and daily mini-adventures.

I’ve been working through the archives of Mr Money Mustache, who somehow manages to make saving money sound like fun. Whilst I’m not sure how I can retire 30 years early yet, as Mr M himself has done (and then some), it’s definitely helping me see my spending and the bigger financial picture in a new light, and is more fun than cutting out 2-4-1 coupons.

 

So, now it seems like the last of winter is behind us, what have you been up to? Leave me a comment, or blog, book or article recommendation in the comments!

February Round Up

I’m often coming across news items, recipes, environmental stories and things that give me pause for thought, but aren’t enough for a whole blog post on their own. So I thought it would be nice to collect them together and share them with you each month. It would been more satisfyingly ‘neat’ to have started this in January, but never mind!

February has been an exciting month because SPRING IS COMING! Just when I was starting to think that it really was going to be muddy, cold and miserable forever, the first flowers are finally peeking their heads up. Here are the celandine and snowdrops on my way to work:

The river where we go swimming is still a chilly three to four degrees Celsius (around 38 Fahrenheit) so I know ‘proper’ spring is still a way off, but it turns out it isn’t going to be winter forever.

Reading

I’ve just finished How To Read Water: Clues & Patterns from Puddles to the Sea
by Tristan Gooley. The perfect resource for anyone looking for an opportunity to have a quick dip when you’re out and about, but also great for anyone interested in understanding natural signs better, so I would also recommend it for walkers, campers and explorers of all kinds!

Next up is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I’ve already learned how trees are naturally social and that they talk to each other, and have started sympathising with the lone hawthorn in our front garden.

Cooking

My neighbour gifted me a pumpkin, which I used to adapt this Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Spinach Coconut Curry recipe from thevegan8.com. I swapped the sweet potato for pumpkin, spinach for some purple sprouting broccoli, and added a bit of garam masala at the end. Delicious with short grain brown rice, flaked almonds and a handful of fresh coriander. The pic here is my version, but I’d recommend visiting the link above to see how beautiful it looks when being photographed properly, and not by a hungry person with a camera phone.

coconut curry

We finished off January with an entirely vegan Burns Night, with veggie haggis, neeps and tatties made using olive oil and mustard rather than butter, and a surprisingly delicious vegan cranachan, made with whipped coconut cream.

Articles

I’ve discovered Anthropocene Magazine, who have some thought provoking articles, my favourites of the moment being:

  • The unforeseen consequences of killing ‘prize’ animals – I cannot get my head round the idea of hunting as a pleasurable activity personally, but this article explains how shooting the the ‘best’ animals is weakening the gene pool and is an interesting counter-argument to the ‘hunting as conservation’ idea.
  • Reusable or Disposable: Which coffee cup has a smaller footprint? – It turns out that it can take as many as a thousand uses for a reusable cup to have less of an environmental impact than a disposable one. I don’t think this is an argument for disposables, more of a case for buying once, making it last, and being frugal with the washing up liquid and hot water when keeping it clean. But a powerful reminder that reusable really needs to mean reusable.
The most shocking news story I’ve seen this month is, as unbelievable as it may seem, that Cape Town is preparing to run out of water. On what is being called the apocalyptic-sounding ‘Day Zero’, the city will turn off its water supply, leaving citizens to visit water ration points to collect their daily allowance of just 25 litres of water. A stark warning to us all that seemingly infinite natural resources are anything but. Could you live on 25 litres of water a day?

Blog posts

Sarah’s post Zero Waste Myths: Are sustainable lifestyles only for middle class people? is a great read, and something I worry about myself. I think those of us promoting ZW and environmentally-friendly activities do need to keep trying to check our privilege – if we’re creating most of the waste, we need to make sure we’re addressing that.

I always love Lindsay’s posts, and got some good ideas from 5 Ideas for Donating Stuff You Don’t Need (But Is Still Useful).

 

I’d love to know what you’ve been up to, and your eco reading/watching/listening/doing recommendations, please leave a comment and let me know! 

 

The ‘no new clothes for a year’ challenge

In December 2016, I watched a film called The True Cost. It’s about the ‘fast fashion’ industry, showing the awful working conditions endured and the environmental devastation caused by our throwaway attitude to clothes.

In particular, the film looks at the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013. If you haven’t heard of Rana Plaza, you will almost certainly own items bought from a brand who had some of their clothes made there – J.C. Penney, Matalan, Benetton, Primark, Zara – to name a few.

In total, 1,134 people died and 2500 were injured when the factory collapsed on 24th April 2013. The incident shone a light into the dreadful conditions that people working in the garment industry were subject to, and the huge cost people paid with their lives so that those of us in richer countries can buy clothes at such a cheap price.

I watched the film with tears in my eyes as the credits rolled, and messaged the friend who had recommended it to me. “I’m not buying any new clothes for a year”, she said to me, and I decided to join her.

I know I could have just said “I’m only shopping for ethically-made clothes from now on”, but it didn’t get to the heart of the problem, which is the addiction we have to consuming without thinking, for always assuming more is better, for never considering where each item comes from. It is frankly obscene that UK households are throwing away 300,000 tonnes of clothes in a single year. Donating to charity, whilst better than simply landfilling used clothes, carries a lot of problems with it as well, not least the disruption of local clothing economies in the less economically affluent countries that our clothes are shipped to. In fact, this is such an issue that some countries are now considering a ban on second-hand imports.

dresses2 Continue reading “The ‘no new clothes for a year’ challenge”

A beginner’s guide to (mostly) living without single-use plastic

I was recently invited to talk to a lovely bunch of people about single-use plastics in January this year. It’s a hot topic in the UK at the moment, following the success of the wonderful Blue Planet II TV series aired on the BBC. Even the Government are getting involved, with their 25 Year Environment Plan pledging to tackle the growing problem of plastic waste.

Whilst we still have a huge mountain of waste to climb (both literally and figuratively), there has undeniably been big spike in awareness of plastic pollution growing across the UK, with bars swapping to paper straws, and supermarkets pledging to reduce or even swap out their plastic packaging. It really feels as though the tide is starting to turn.

So it seemed a better time than ever to talk to a room of people about the wonderful world of living without single-use plastic, through rubbish stats – that’s stats about rubbish, not poor quality data – and why recycling isn’t actually a good thing, just a less-bad thing.  Although my talk was aimed at a UK audience, I think it contains some ideas that would work in all sorts of places! And so I thought I would share it with you lovely people too, because I really do just love talking rubbish 🙂

SUP title

Continue reading “A beginner’s guide to (mostly) living without single-use plastic”

Green on screen: 10 must-see environmental films

There’s few things I love more as a treat than to snuggle under a blanket on the sofa and watch a great documentary. Films are a great way to learn without really trying when you’re having a lazy day, or introduce friends or family to new concepts without feeling like you’re lecturing them. These are some of my favourites, covering plastic pollution, simple living, waste, the ocean, climate change and fast fashion. All of them are beautifully made, by passionate, interesting people who will (hopefully) leave you feeling inspired and ready to take action.

The freebies – films freely available online (legally!)

A Plastic Whale: This is part of the series of short films made by Sky. It is the story of the body of a whale that washes up on the coast of Norway, found to have died as a result of consuming so much plastic. The documentary follows a team of scientists and interested members of the public as they look to use the tragedy to highlight the growing effects of plastic on ocean creatures. Continue reading “Green on screen: 10 must-see environmental films”

Why small actions matter

A common criticism of environmentalists by other environmentalists is the focus on  ‘small wins’ – things like energy efficient light bulbs, swapping to canvas shopping bags, saying no to plastic straws. The criticism is usually that this is a ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’ approach – something akin to “for god’s sake, sea levels are rising, the planet is warming, the oceans are acidifying, and your signature on an online petition, or using a reusable coffee cup isn’t going to fix this! We need huge, systematic change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m under no illusion here, I know swapping to eco-friendly bathroom cleaner is not going to prevent the sixth mass extinction event that is currently underway. We cannot beach clean ourselves to a maximum 1.5C degree rise in global temperatures.

But it IS important. It’s important because of what it says about our collective mindset.

What started me thinking about this was watching a screening of Before the Flood, an environmental documentary presented by Leonardo Di Caprio. A particular quote in the film struck me:

Politicians are not elected leaders, they are elected followers. They will do what consensus wants.

Politicians represent their constituents. Extrapolating to wider society, businesses make or procure objects and services for consumers to buy. Politicians who don’t do what the electorate want get voted out, and companies that make products that no one buys go out of business. Continue reading “Why small actions matter”