Could you send one less email a day? Use the dishwasher instead of washing up? These little green tweaks can make a huge difference, says Georgina Wilson-Powell.
Let’s get this straight from the off – I’m just like you. I had the normal childhood of a kid born in the 80s – microwave chips, plastic-filled parties, high-street fashion. No one gave a thought to what happened to the vast amount we consumed once it went in the bin.
Then, ten years ago, I found myself working in Dubai editing a travel magazine, experiencing the kind of jet-set lifestyle I could once have only dreamed of. But I had the creeping sensation that my multiple flights a year weren’t helping anyone.
It was a lightbulb moment that inspired pebble, my online sustainable lifestyle magazine, and my new book, Is It Really Green? Going green is easier than you think, and doesn’t have to be scary or bleak – it’s about making small changes that build into big shifts. Here’s how…
Should I wash up by hand or use the dishwasher?
Dishwashers are less wasteful than you might think. A full load uses a fraction of the water required to wash the same number of dishes by hand. A fast-running tap can gush nine litres of water a minute; a dishwasher might use 25 litres per load.
What should I wash up with?
Sponge-scourers, made from polyurethane, don’t last long yet stick around in landfill for centuries. Woven cloths – mostly made from viscose – can biodegrade but also mostly end up in landfill. Instead, use cut-up bits of old fabric. Buy wooden scrubbing brushes with horsehair or cactus bristles; scourers made of copper wire (which can be recycled); and washing-up pads made of coconut fibre, loofah or cellulose.
Kitchen roll or washable alternatives?
It takes 17 trees and 91,000 litres of water to make one tonne of kitchen roll; it is then infused with toxic chemicals and bleached white. Switch to reusable bamboo paper towels which are naturally antibacterial and can be washed several times. Tea towels and napkins should be made of natural fibres.
Gas or electric hob and oven?
Rather than gas or electric hobs, the most energy-efficient are induction hobs, which use an electromagnetic field to generate heat. Use lids on pans, match ring size to pots, and pre-boil water in the kettle to speed cooking times. The greenest ovens are fan-assisted, using about 20 per cent less energy as they warm up more quickly. Also, choose the toaster over the grill where possible.
Food & drink
Are some types of meat greener than others?
Beef and lamb are the worst offenders for greenhouse gas emissions – cows and sheep produce more methane than all other types of livestock combined.
Chicken has a smaller carbon footprint but there are welfare issues. Most UK supermarket chickens are the Ross breed. Alive for just 35 days, up to 50,000 birds at a time are forced to grow unnaturally quickly and kept awake with artificial light for long periods to speed growth.
Game (non-farmed meat, such as venison and pigeon) is often more sustainable than farmed meat, especially if from animals and birds culled to control their numbers.
Can I eat fish without damaging the planet?
Always check for certification. The Marine Conservation Society’s traffic-light system ranks from most to least sustainable, and a ‘blue tick’ logo shows that fisheries have been independently audited. Hake, mackerel and squid have good sustainability ratings.
Which milk is the greenest?
It’s estimated that the dairy industry is responsible for three to four per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and dairy cows on large farms often lead miserable lives.
Oat milk is eco-friendly. The plants have relatively low CO2 emissions and use six times less water than almond trees. They can be grown, too, in cooler northern climes, meaning fewer air miles. Coconut milk is also a good choice. It may travel further but coconut palms require little water or chemicals and they absorb CO2.
Should I buy only locally produced food?
As well as CO2 emissions caused by the transporting of imports, refrigeration requires even more energy, while air-freighted fruit has to be ripened in vast warehouses.
Choose UK and local brands of yogurt, wine, honey, ice cream, chocolate, gin, beer and more. Eat with the seasons. This helps the planet, as farms don’t have to force fruit and veg to grow at the wrong time of year in energy-heavy artificial conditions.
Is it possible to keep food fresh without harming the planet?
Clingfilm poses many environmental issues, being practically impossible to recycle. Instead, beeswax or soy wax wraps are great to keep food fresh. They are made of pieces of fabric coated in wax, which responds to the heat from your hands by softening and forming a seal. Aluminium foil can be a suitable alternative if it can be recycled.
Avoid plastic sandwich bags. Reuse old plastic bags, such as those used for packaging for fruit, veg or bread.
Are some foods just not worth the carbon footprint?
Avocados are a prime example. Demand has encouraged Mexican farmers to destroy ancient forests in order to grow them. Add the resources and energy required to pick the fruit, keep it fresh and transport it and the result is a carbon emissions nightmare.
The boom in quinoa and chia seeds, too, has led to deforestation and an increase in pesticide use. Bagged salad, grown under LED lights and transported long distances, is another carbon-heavy culprit.
King prawns are mostly farmed in Asia, where their production damages mangrove swamps, which are vital for protecting against rising sea levels.
Which is the greenest form of sugar?
If you buy refined sugar, make sure it’s Fairtrade or organic, to lessen the environmental impact. Avoid highly processed foods and fizzy drinks.
What’s the most eco-friendly cup of coffee?
Coffee-pod machines generate a large amount of plastic waste, while espresso machines may not create plastic waste but use large amounts of coffee and energy to make just one small cup.
For the most eco-friendly coffee, use simple methods, such as a cafetière, rather than electric machines. Choose coffee with a certification such as Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance, and, ideally, opt for organic and shade-grown.
Which is greener, a bath or shower?
Speeding up your routine could save a lot of water. The average bath holds 136 litres, while a typical shower pumps out 19 litres of water per minute. That means you’d have to shower for more than seven minutes to use the same amount of water as a full bath.
Should I use bars of soap and shampoo or refillable bottles?
Liquid soap uses five times more energy to make than solid soap. It also uses 20 times more packaging and 15 times more transport emissions. Solid soap lasts seven times as long as the same weight of liquid soap.
What’s best, an electric or bamboo toothbrush?
Electric toothbrushes can be green if they don’t use removable batteries, are sold in plastic-free packaging and can be recycled. Whatever you choose, avoid disposable plastic toothbrushes. A billion are thrown away every year in the US alone. Researchers reckon that almost every plastic toothbrush produced since the 1930s is still here. And being made of a mix of materials, they’re almost impossible to recycle.
How can I have a zero-waste bathroom?
Ditch wet wipes and replace them with reusable, washable cotton cloths or pads. If you end up using wipes as a last resort, don’t flush them. The UK gets through 1.8 billion cotton buds a year. Swap to ones made of cardboard, and bin after use. Replace floss with a natural fibre biodegradable option in a glass jar, bamboo versions of floss picks, or a water flosser, which uses a jet of water. For interdental brushes, choose bamboo over plastic.
Is there a greener way to do the shopping?
If you need to drive, try to do just one weekly shop. Consider home delivery. Buy in bulk. Say no to receipts, which are not recyclable as they are made of several materials, using heat, not ink, to print the details.
Is a bag for life really eco-friendly?
Many supermarkets no longer provide single-use bags; instead, they offer a ‘bag for life’ that can be replaced for free when it wears out… but being heavier and stronger, they use more plastic. So unless you use one more than 12 times, it’s worse for the planet than its single-use predecessor.
Is it OK to buy cut flowers?
Most cut flowers are grown in just three countries: Kenya, Ecuador and Colombia. Eighty per cent of all flowers bought in the UK are imported. To enjoy them in a greener way, buy locally, rather than from an online or international chain. Ask for plastic-free wrapping and avoid arrangements made with plastic foam. Or consider a seasonal pot plant, which will last longer.
Should I buy reusable items such as a lunchbox and water bottle?
Reusable bottles are a great way to reduce single-use plastic but shun cheap stainless steel or bottles manufactured in factories thousands of miles away. Avoid paper straws as they are not usually recyclable.
How should I heat my home?
Use renewable energy if you can by switching to a green-energy supplier. Heat more efficiently – turning down your heating by just a single degree can save a surprising amount of energy. Consider heating only the rooms you are using. Turning up the thermostat by one or two degrees drastically increases energy consumption over a year.
Is it worth turning off electronic devices at night?
TVs, dishwashers, game consoles, smart speakers, phone chargers and other devices use up to 90 per cent of their power when on standby. So turn them off. Standby mode is thought to be responsible for one per cent of global CO2 emissions – equating to two power stations’ worth of electricity each year. The older an appliance is, the more energy it eats up in standby mode.
What’s the environmental impact of emails?
Every email requires electricity in order to be typed, sent and stored. In 2019, a staggering 293.6 billion emails were sent each day globally – the carbon-emission equivalent of an extra seven million cars on the roads. A study concluded that if we each sent one less email a day, national CO2 emissions would be reduced by over 16,433 tonnes.
Is owning a cat or dog planet-friendly?
Of course, any pet brings benefits such as walks, companionship and a boost to mental health. However, pets contribute CO2 and methane to the environment. Pet food is responsible for 25 per cent of the land, animals and energy involved in global meat production. So avoid cheaper brands that use mass-produced meat. Buy food in tins which can be recycled, or dry food in compostable bags. Keep in mind that over half of our cats and dogs are overfed.
Is It Really Green? Everyday Eco Dilemmas Answered by Georgina Wilson-Powell is published by DK, price £12.99.