I’ve already posted about some of the more general ideas about how you can live eco – things like eating organic food, getting the bus instead of driving and fixing things rather than buying new. There are soooo many things you can do to live more environmentally friendly (and in turn more healthily), some big some small. But I thought I’d make a little list of some specific things to try:
1. Stop using shampoo
I stopped using shampoo after I came back from my trip to Sumatra. Before I went I’d been trying to find organic (i.e. not full of chemicals) shampoo because I would be washing in a river in the rainforest and didn’t want to dump chemicals into the ecosystem. I found an organic brand which I took with me, but while chatting to the people I was away with I realised one of the ideas I’d come across and poo-pooed was using bicarbonate of soda. So here’s how I now wash my hair:
1. To replace the shampoo, I make a 50/50 mix in an old jam jar of bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking powder) and water.
2. You use a bit of this mixture and massage into the roots of your hair, leaving it in for a minute or so. You don’t need to put it onto the ends, just the scalp. Then rinse it out. That’s it!
3. I now do this once a week (maximum) because my hair has adjusted to not having chemicals put on it every day, but when you’re transitioning you need to be patient! Regular shampoo strips your hair of all its oils, so every time you wash it, it produces more oil. It gets used to over-producing oil so when you first start using bicarb your hair will still feel greasy – it took my hair about 3 months to adjust and stop producing too much oil! Brushing it regularly helps get rid of some of the grease but mostly you just need to wait it out. Once your hair has adjusted, you can use the bicarb every so often, and rinse with water in between. Saves using chemicals, saves a lot of money and saves water too (shorter showers!).
4. To replace the conditioner, you have a few options. I’ve been using a mix of cider vinegar and water (a smallish glug of vinegar into a cup of water) which I pour onto the ends – this makes it soft and shiny. Or you can use egg white – I haven’t tried this yet, but my friend Claire (of the lamps, see below!) says it works great.
2. Try eating seasonally
I don’t follow this strictly, but it is interesting to think about where your food has come from and whether its in season. It all becomes a lot more relevant when you start growing your own food – you become much more aware of the nature yearly cycle, seasons and the energy that goes into producing food. This website is really useful for finding out what fruit and veg is in season.
3. Get some nature every single day
Getting outside regularly has so many benefits – it makes you more aware of the natural world around you, and there are so many health and well-being benefits for us too – it makes us more creative and productive, it can reduce depression and many other mental and physical illnesses, and it can improve our relationships with family, friends and local community. Sit under a tree to eat your lunch at work, pop out for a walk, look for butterflies in your local park, observe your garden birds doing their thing, look up at the sky and enjoy the clouds. Or go for a 10 mile walk, kayak down a river or go paragliding. Regular contact with nature can be big or small!
4. Buy second-hand lampshades and recover with second-hand or cut-off fabric
This is a specific thing, but basically its the idea of taking something someone else doesn’t want and ‘up-cycling it’ – using some creativity and low-level skill to improve it or make it into something you really love. My friend Claire does this, her whole house is full of lamps and each one is unique and amazing. Here’s what she says you need to do: ‘Use Youtube to watch some videos of other people doing it and then free style. When I couldn’t find the right glue I bought carpet glue, sprayed it liberally and got glue all over my new rug and eyelashes. I eventually bought a hot glue gun, which was very cheap, and that made things a lot less potentially blinding! I think the key is find nice material and lampshade shapes, both easily found in charity shops, so you keep going and get it done. It’s so much cheaper than buying them and also lots of infuriating fun.’
5. Wage a war against junk mail
Junk mail seriously winds me up. I seem to get tonnes of it everyday, a mixture of stuff addressed to me (usually some sort of credit card promo) and unaddressed, some of which comes from the postman (Royal Mail makes money delivering pizza menus and flyers for garages within their normal post round), some is delivered by local people. I have a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign on my door, which appears to do absolutely f-all. So what can you do? Instead of just putting it straight into your recycling box, take action!
1. First thing, register with Royal Mail to stop all unaddressed mail being delivered by the postman. You have to fill out a paper form, wait 6 months for it to come into action and then renew every 2 years so its a bit of a joke really, but better than nothing.
2. Put a sign on your door, it may stop the odd estate agent leaflet being stuffed through the letterbox.
3. For junk mail addressed to a previous resident, scribble out the address and return to sender by highlighting the return address and putting it back in the postbox. Don’t forget to ask the sender to remove the contact from their mailing list.
4. For mail addressed to you, I’ve started calling up the companies and requesting they remove me from their mailing list.
This is how much junk mail I got in a few days: mostly credit card applications and menu flyers. ARGH!
6. Grow some food!
Whatever space you’ve got, you can totally grow something edible. I’m lucky enough to have a proper veg patch in my garden now, but when I lived in Brighton I grew loads of stuff in pots and large, open sacks – salad leaves, courgettes, beetroot, leeks, herbs. If you’ve got a balcony (or you can even get planters that attach to the window frame), try a few pots of ‘cut and grow back’ types plants, such as herbs, rocket, chard or spinach. Or if you’ve got a garden, you can get a bit more ambitious – create a dedicated veg area that gets plenty of sunlight, work on improving your soil (add compost each year, grow compost plants over the winter and make sure drainage is good) and then put in some seeds. Once the seedlings are established, nature tends to take care of things and theres actually not a lot you need to do other than a bit of weeding and water if its been really hot and dry. Oh and don’t forget to cut and eat your veg when its ready!
7. Favour natural materials over man-made, such as plastic, and quality over quantity
Whatever it is you’re buying, think about what its made of. Not only are natural materials – such as metal or wood – better for the environment in terms of their production, they also tend to last longer and so avoid so much waste. Also think about how well made the thing is – would spending a little bit more mean it lasted a life time, rather than a year? Think of all those lovely bits of 1950s ‘retro’ furniture thats so popular these days, the only reason we can still use it in our homes is because its physically survived the test of time, it was made properly.
8. Car share
Walking and public transport is great when it works, but sometimes you need to get somewhere more specific, or the public transport is just too expensive. My bother has used Liftshare a few times – its a website that connects people who are driving somewhere with people who need to get somewhere. Car sharing saves on fuel, saves on emissions, means you don’t need to own your own car, is usually a heck of a lot cheaper than public transport and has the added bonus that you might meet someone really interesting (the website has the option to request ‘no talking’ options!). Or if you drive to work, can you share a lift with someone, even if its just every so often?
9. Be a conservation hero!
Taking an active role in the health of your local environment is a great way to live a greener lifestyle, plus it can be fun and good for your own health too. I wrote a post on 10 ways to become a wildlife conservation hero a while back, some of the highlights are: volunteer with a practical conservation project, take part in some citizen science or take a short course and learn some stuff.
10. Get a composter or a wormery
Use your food waste to create compost to grown more food in! Its the perfect ecosystem cycle, no waste energy, everything is put to use. If you’ve got a garden, you absolutely need to have a composter – you can put all your food waste in it, plus things like kitchen paper, newspaper and small bits of material, and of course most of your garden waste too. If you’ve got less space, why not try a wormery? Its much smaller and primarily for food waste – they come with a small colony of worms which break down the food quicker than in a composter, and produce a lot of ‘worm wee’, a liquid fertiliser to use on your plants. Most local councils offer a discount on wormerys and composers – see the getcompost website to find out if you qualify.