It’s almost a whole year since I wrote my first blog post about sustainable life changes. It’s been an interesting journey and, in many ways, a real rollercoaster. I’ll be honest from the beginning that one of the biggest negatives of the changes I’ve made is that by making a few changes it’s only made me more aware of the waste in all aspects of our lives; I am genuinely struggling with “Eco Anxiety” these days; Every time we do or buy something which isn’t truly sustainable, I feel incredibly guilty. So in a sense, one of the main reasons for writing the post is as a reminder of all the positive things we’ve done. Because, as I’ve read in so many places recently:
It’s not about one person doing everything perfectly, but a lot of people doing it imperfectly.
I’m trying to bear this in mind during my moments of struggle and also remember that in everything I am doing, I am trying educate both the girls (and Sam) in how to live in a more sustainable and earth-friendly way. So taking a look back over the last year-ish, I’m going think about some of the successes, failures and middling changes made in a quest to lessen the impact we have as a family.
Milk: We have been using the milkman since the start of the year and it’s going really well. After our false start with a different dairy last year, these new folks have been reliably delivering to us twice a week since then. We only had one miss when, it turned out, the poor roundsman had got locked in some school grounds in Stevenage. I really do want to look into plant based milks though to try and lower our carbon footprint.
Cloth nappies: It’s been almost 15 months since we made the switch to cloth and we haven’t looked back! During that time it’s become second nature really. The nappy washes are part of the ritual, as is cleaning away the “mess” that often happens – although I’m not sure that part will ever be completely enjoyable! After discussing the process of cloth nappies with Little Z’s nursery, they were happy to use them on her nursery days so 3 nights a week I pack a two-part waterproof bag with nappies ready for the day ahead. Recently, after a bad bout of nappy rash, they also said they were happy to use her cloth wipes. Once they had tried them, they realised how much better they were so we’ve continued taking them.
During the last 15 months, we have only used disposables on a couple of occasions. The first was in June for our holiday to Center Parcs; there were no laundry facilities available so I switched to Naty nappies for the week except at night. In the morning I would rinse out the cloth nappy really well, soak it in some Bambino Mio Miofresh and then hang it to dry. When we got back home at the end of our holiday I put them through a long wash.
I also had to use disposables for a couple of days a couple of months ago after Little Z’s nappy rash got really bad again. Now, I firmly believe that cloth nappies are no more a cause of nappy rash than disposables. However, there is no disputing that disposables can give a drier feel for the bottom and her skin was so bad that it needed that dryness. I also took the opportunity to do a deep wash on all the cloth as a few nappies did smell a little musty. I did some refresher reading around washing cloth and The Nappy Lady Q&A section did mention that they did not recommend using an EcoEgg for cloth as overtime problems could build as it can’t clean deep enough for something doing such a tough job. So I have swapped to washing with regular laundry power with a Miofresh boost; I had hoped to avoid non-eco laundry detergent but needs must.
Cleaning products: This is another massive change area. In October last year I bough ‘Fresh Clean Home‘ by Wendy Graham of blog Moral Fibres. It’s such a wonderful book and it’s been the driving force for me changing how I clean. There are a wealth of home cleaning recipes online but I have found it really helpful having a physical book to hand. Since then, I have used her bathroom cleaner recipe for all my bathroom cleaning, a shower shine recipe to replace the stuff we used to buy from the shop and use citric acid to clean the kettle every month. I have also used it for cleaning the oven, making mould and mildew spray, cleaning the toilet, cleaning the dishwasher and maintaining the washing machine. Citric acid, bicarbonate of soda, tea tree oil, lavender oil, liquid castile soap and vinegar have become the staple cleaning ingredients in our house. The only chemical cleaning products we use in limited amounts are: bleach – we live in such a hard water area and have ‘awkward’ toilets so it’s the only thing we have easily managed to get to clean the top of the bowls; drain unblocker – I use bicarb and vinegar but for the shower and bath drains it just doesn’t seem to clean them.
Ultimately though, switching to more natural cleaning solutions has actually reinforced the cleaning schedule I set up for myself in January. Knowing that I won’t be using and breathing in a load of nasty chemical solutions, I can keep my cleaners more readily to hand and use them more routinely. It’s a win-win really.
Fruit & veg: Until I went back to work post-maternity leave, Little Z and I would go to the supermarket every week whilst Little H was at nursery to buy our fruits and veggies. That wasn’t possible once I went back to work as there was no way I was taking both of them to the supermarket. So I researched and came across a local veg box service, Seasons Fruit and Veg. An added bonus is they also happen to deliver products from the refill shop, Bamboo Turtle, in Letchworth which provided a way of bulk buying some dry goods without plastic and without having to order online. They also try to source produce as locally as possible. Anyway, we’ve been using them more-or-less weekly since then and it’s been very convenient. Now Little H is at school though, I have been able to go to the supermarket myself with Little Z a couple of times when I either don’t need much or, more often, have forgotten to place my order! (We also got an amazing crop of potatoes, tomatoes and courgettes from the garden over the summer which meant we were self-sufficient for those items for a couple of months!)
Tea: We’re a fairly big tea drinking house. For a while Sam and I switched to loose leaf tea. It tasted really good and was one of the lowest waste options. But the additional “faff’ of dealing with the teapot was often just “too much” when trying to make a quick cuppa mid-childcare (sometimes with a child attached to my arm / leg), or when it was all that stood between us and finally having a rest on the sofa. So we tried out Clipper tea bags which are made from plant-based plastic so will degrade. They are a very good brew and a happy medium for us right now.
Other food: This continues to be the trickier area as we are only able to change based on what we can access. As mentioned above, we get some items from the plastic-free refill store delivered with our veggies – items such as pasta, lentils etc – but they have to be delivered in a brown paper bag as I’m not going to the shop myself and therefore the carbon footprint isn’t really lessened. The only improvement is that I can buy bigger amounts and also reuse the paper bag. At the supermarket we try to buy more food packaged in cardboard, jars or tins whilst avoiding plastic where we can. I also try hard to make more snacks rather than relying on pre-packed items. But the reality of that is that it’s harder than I expected and I am often a little over-optimistic about what I can do. The girls and Sam both like to eat a variety of things many of which I haven’t found a way to easily replicate at home. The shelf life of homemade snacks is often shorter too so whilst something is massively popular on day 1, by day 3 or 4 the interest has gone and food ends up being wasted. I need to get better at batch making and freezing but again, it’s just practice and it’s a continual area of learning for me.
Periods: I can’t even remember when I switched to my cloth sanity pads but it feels strange that I ever used anything different. They are more comfortable than disposables, don’t require much effort to clean and have the significant benefit that they aren’t going to sit in landfill for hundreds of years. The first ones I purchased were eco femme which are really nice but a bit pricey (although the brand have excellent ethics and help those in developing countries who don’t have access to period products). I supplemented my set with a few from Cheeky Wipes and the make isn’t as good but they do well for the less heavy days. I still have a cup to try too but I haven’t invested the time into working out how to use it yet!
Toiletries: One of the areas I’ve been happiest with has actually been toiletries. I didn’t get on with shampoo bars and, instead, started using Beauty Kubes; they clean really well and also foam like shampoo which is one of my favourite parts of a shower. I also use a conditioner which comes in a glass jar – checkout The Kind Store. I’ve swapped my facial products over to items from the Kind Store too – White Rabbit balm for evening face washes, alternated with a soap facial bar. For moisturising I now have a facial oil for the evenings and an SPF 15 day cream (again from The Kind Store) for the winter. I have yet to find any high factor face cream though so for now I’m sticking with my Origins cream for the sunnier months and taking the pots to be recycled.
The best thing about my switch of beauty products though is that my skin and hair feels healthier and softer. There was an inevitable transition period but it’s wonderful knowing that I’m not leeching a lot of chemicals into my body whilst trying to protect my skin.
Turning off the power shower: In our ensuite we have a power shower. Recently the pump went so we used it in trickle form without the electricity on until the engineer came to repair it. A new pump, hose and shower head later and it was all up-and-running. However, we tried it without the electricity again and with the new bits and it worked perfectly and with a better flow of water. So we’ve left the pump switched off saving both water and electricity.
What next?: Honestly I’m not sure. Plant milk maybe, at little at least. But I think that I’ve changed as much as I can manage for now. As the girls get bigger, I hope to take time to make a few more things – wraps, snack bars etc. In reality though the admin that comes with a school age child is greater than I thought so for now I’m going to focus on keeping my head above water with the changes we have made and looking after the girls. Altering out lifestyle to support the environment and reduce waste is really important to me but if I push it too far then I will end up abandoning what I’ve accomplished to date. So going back to my opening quotation – I’m going to do this imperfectly and hope that my changes inspire those around me to make changes themselves.