Tag Archives: Green Tips

Change the World Wednesday – use it up!

13 Feb

In January, myself and LowImpactPapa had a serious look at our food shopping habits. We had had an expensive few months with the move from London and Christmas and were looking at ways to tighten our belt financially. Grocery bills were an obvious area to examine (along with abstaining from eating out for the whole of January and turning our thermostat down a couple of degrees!). We were on a mission to reduce our grocery bill, reduce our waste and eat healthily. So we started meal planning and trying to find some new, simple recipes to approach our usual ingredients in new ways.

And it worked! We’ve significantly cut our grocery bills, we’ve cut our food waste by being more mindful in our eating, we’ve each lost about 9 lbs and we’ve got some new recipes that we are enjoying. Plus the kids are enjoying the new takes on familiar ingredients!

But food waste is a huge issue for the world. The NRDC released a report last year about this  called “Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40% of its food from Farm to Fork”. (see here for more information including a pdf of the report). Here’s a quote from the summary:

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables. Increasing the efficiency of our food system is a triple- bottom-line solution that requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers. The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction; businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money; and consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, buying produce that is perfectly edible even if it’s less cosmetically attractive, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers[emphasis in bold added my me]

So this week’s Change the World Wednesday (#CTWW) over at Reduce Footprints really chimes with the current food philosophy here at Chez Lowimpactparenting. This week’s challenge comes via Mrs Green’s Half Term Challenge over at My Zero Waste. It’s about taking stock of what’s in our fridge, planning some meals around it and enjoying them, knowing that we’re saving money and protecting resources. It’s sounds like what we’re trying to do anyway, so how could I not join in :). But seriously, we were away visiting the in-laws at the weekend, so we’ve been a bit more lax this week than usual as we didn’t have the time to meal plan as thoroughly as usual so this challenge is helping me to refocus on this.

I hadn’t realised quite how many different leftovers we had lurking until doing this. We have some leftover pizza sauce, some leftover rice, some leftover egg whites (from Pancake Tuesday last night!) as well as some homemade black beans. So for lunch today I think I’ll do some bean quesadillas with rice & beans on the side.

Vegetables-wise, we have some courgettes & leeks that I bought last week so should really use up. So I think it’ll be homemade courgette & leek pesto for dinner tonight (which conveniently gets some veg into my nearly 3 year old who’s going through a fussy food stage…though he’ll eat pesto til the cows come home!).

In the fruit bowl, we have some bananas that are on the turn, quite a few grapefruits and some pears, including one that’s half cut already. Luckily, neither of my kids turn their noses up at brown bananas though sometimes we’ll mash them up and serve them on toast if they’re just too mushy to eat from the skin. So afternoon snack will  be bananas and pear and a grapefruit (my 10 month old loves her citrus fruit so I’ll share it with her as the boy only likes grapefruit in juice form!).

Though I’m hoping to get some messy play aka baking in this afternoon too (since Valentine’s Day tomorrow is the perfect excuse for some heart-shaped baked goods!) so afternoon snack may well end up being derailed by that…

Easy green cleaning

5 Feb

Our cleaning products can be full of nasties and can pose a real risk of poisoning if children or pets get into them. It’s no surprise so many households are packed full of harsh chemicals, after decades of “Better Living Through Chemistry”  and advertising telling us we need to have homes that are cleaner than clean or whites that are whiter than white or floors cleaned with antibacterial wipes.  Luckily it’s a very easy step to take to green your cleaning products. What’s even better is that by making your own cleaning products you’ll save a ton of money too.

Making more of my own green cleaning products is one of my eco aims for 2013 so I thought I’d share 3 easy green cleaning solutions that will make your home a cleaner, greener space.

All purpose cleaner:

1 cup water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tbsp of lemon juice
10 drops tea tree oil

Tea tree is a wonderful essential oil with natural antic bacterial and anti fungal properties, so this cleaner is great for everyday use on most surfaces. NB leave out the lemon juice if you have granite counter tops as it can stain them!

Window & Glass cleaner:

Just mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and you’re good to go. Just spray on any glass surfaces and wipe (we use old newspapers for the wiping).

Microwave cleaner:

This is an old trick but works so brilliantly. Put a bowl of warm tap water in the microwave with some lemon slices and cook on high for 1 minute. Then let it sit in the microwave for a few minutes, so the steam stays trapped inside. Then just wipe out the microwave with a damp sponge – easy peasy!

I use spray bottles that I’ve saved from the commercial eco cleaners I was using before switching to homemade. You can also pick up empty spray bottles in places like a dollar store (or pound shop!). I’d love to hear if anyone else has homemade green tips to share, as I’ve become a bit of a white vinegar bore in real life since it’s such a great (and cheap!) alternative to expensive eco cleaners!

 

How green was 2012?

14 Jan

I’ve reviewed 2012 with personal highlights here but I’ve also been thinking about the green highlights (and lowlights) of the year. I’m hoping that it will provide me with inspiration for living green in 2013!

Baby

I had my second baby in 2012 (and an utterly gorgeous baby she is too!). We didn’t buy much for her – there’s something very special about seeing your second baby in clothes that your first baby has grown out of!- but we did buy a newborn insert for our Ergo. And we loved it and recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.

We also treated ourselves to a Tummy Tub for her first months – I had wanted one with my son but was given a bath & a bath seat so couldn’t justify it. This time we couldn’t resist and it was a joy to use – bath time was so special, as her 2 year old brother could really get involved and it was a lovely bonding time for us all. I’d definitely recommend it.

Diapers-wise, this time we used some Bummis prefolds & wraps to boost our washable diaper stash, as our son was still using his Bumgenius v3 and Flips. I was nervous, as I thought they seemed like a lot of hassle but we needed an inexpensive solution until our daughter could start using her brother’s diapers. And not only was I won over, but I fell for them utterly! Gorgeous soft fabric, fast and easy to use, quick drying. Very enjoyable to use and I highly recommend them.

But a green lowlight was that we used far more disposables than we should have. During our first month in the US we had no choice – our washables were being shipped over with the rest of our stuff – but then we got lazy. We got used to the convenience…and used “eco” brands to assuage our guilt. Luckily we’re back on track using washable diapers & wipes now but it was a lesson in how easy it can be to slip into bad habits.

A resolution for 2013 is to primarily use washable diapers & wipes.

Housekeeping

2012 was the year I started using white vinegar…which doesn’t sound like much but honestly, it is a revelation. I love it!

I’ve always tried to buy green cleaning products – Ecover was a favourite brand in the UK but I now use Method (which are now, conveniently, the same company!). The impact that cleaning products can have on our eco systems is something that really matters to me. But when my baby started eating her food off the table I was suddenly very bothered by even my green surface cleaner. I didn’t want any unnecessary chemicals polluting her food. So I switched to a 50% white vinegar solution and I love it – surfaces are clean & sparkling, there’s no vinegar-y smell, it’s super cheap (which is a big factor now I’m a stay-at-home parent) and I don’t have to worry about contamination of her food. I’m a convert.

A resolution for 2013 is to switch to more homemade green cleaning products.

We’ve also had our first experience of using a tumble dryer. We didn’t have one in the UK and never missed it. When we spent a month in Manhattan we had no choice but to use it – there was no other way to dry clothes in the tiny apartment – and I really didn’t like it. I shrank some clothes that I really loved and just felt guilty about it. But it became a habit that carried over into our new home.

But we have a spacious basement and my husband picked up a big sturdy clothes horse (it dwarfs our trusty clothes horse from our London life!). So we’re back to air-drying clothes with the tumble dryer for emergencies only. But it’s something to keep an eye on as I can now see how seductive the tumble dryer can be!

A resolution for 2012 is to primarily air dry our laundry.

Food

We had the joy of baby-led weaning all over again with our daughter. Like her brother, she’s never had processed baby food and it means we all eat more healthily as a result (since we watch the salt & sugar intake in everything we cook so she can handle it). I recommend baby led weaning to all parents as it is really a wonderful time in your baby’s first year – so much fun as your little one discovers the fun of food (my 9 month old daughter is going through the phrase of intentially dropping food on the floor, watching it falls…she’s like a mini physicist discovering gravity!).

We’ve also decided to eat more vegetarian food to reduce the carbon footprint of our good (read up on the environmental benefits of vegetarian eating here). So today was lentil soup & spelt bread for lunch and the Moosewood’s super tasty sweet potato quesadillas for dinner.

A resolution for 2013 is to have at least 2 vegetarian days a week.

Household Waste

I’ve already admitted to our disposable diaper addiction above, so that was a definitely green lowlight of 2012 in terms of household waste. But we’ve also had to sacrifice our home composting in our new rental home in Maplewood. We have no garden, so have no where to use any compost we create, and food waste isn’t collected by the town (oh how I miss Haringey’s food waste collection!). But we’re hoping to buy our own house this year and having an enclosed back yard we can garden is a priorty so I hope that by the time 2013 ends we’ll be back to home composting most of our food waste.

A resolution for 2013 is to start composting as soon as we can.

We’ve also just stared having milk delivered from the Green Market Dairy – and we love it! There is something so satisfying about the lovely glass bottles. And since the bottles are then reused it is also help cut down the volume of single use plastic or tetra packs we recycle.

OK, quite a rambly post but I hope that this informal green audit helps me move into 2013 more committed than ever to living green!

Putting the “Eco” in “Economical”

21 Jan
We’re living in tough economic times. It’s stressful, managing a household when your income may be dropping or your job precarious. And then you find out you’re having a baby (or another baby) and your financial woes take on a whole new level – how will you afford all the stuff that comes with a baby? And how will you afford maternity leave? Let alone all the expense that goes into raising a child (according to some sources, it costs over two hundred thousand pounds to raise a child to adulthood in the UK today.)
But having a baby doesn’t have to break the bank. With a bit of time and creativity, you can take a frugal (but fun!) approach to having a baby. And by embracing your inner cheapskate you can reward yourself with green brownie points at the same time. It’s about putting the “Eco” in “Economical”.
Cutting back on consumption (reducing) and embracing second-hand or hand-me-downs (reusing) are two of the fundamental tenets of taking a frugal, green approach to raising a baby. And because it’s more economical, it means that when you do have to buy new you can afford to buy quality products that last. So you can either reuse them on a subsequent child or sell them on when you no longer need them.
So I’m going to start a series of easy tips on how to have a green baby just by being frugal. With baby no 2 on the way, it’ll allow me to refresh all the things we learnt with baby no 1. And I’d love to hear any frugal tips you have – what baby stuff did you love? Or hate? What’s your top green tip for parents or parents-to-be?

 

On the Third Day of Christmas…

13 Dec

…my true love sent to me, a load of baubles in an evergreen tree!

I love Christmas trees. I love the smell, the colours, the way they change the room in such a dramatic way. A Christmas tree just makes day-to-day life that bit more glamorous and cheerful, which is perfect for the depths of mid-winter!

So what’s the greenest way to have a Christmas tree?

Real versus Fake?

Well, the first thing is that real trees are the more eco-friendly choice. This may seem counter-intuitive, when thinking about an artificial tree that can be used for years versus cutting down a living tree merely to stick it in your living room with decorations on it. But artificial trees are made using a PVC, so a petroleum-derived plastic, which is non-renewable and polluting. Lead and other additives are also used to make the PVC needles on artificial trees more malleable. The addition of lead can make these trees harmful, particularly to children (nothing like worrying about lead to dampen festive cheer!). They can shed an invisible dust of lead particles, especially when hoovering (see this article for more information). As they’re not bio-degradable, the afterlife of an artificial tree involves many years of polluting landfill…

On the other hand, real trees have less of a carbon impact. They usually absorb as much carbon as they’ll emit when disposed off. They’re also renewable, with  replacement trees planted for those harvested. While growing, they also act as a wildlife habitat. And they’re just so much nicer in your home (biased, moi?).

Tree Buying Tips

Look out for trees that have the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark, as this means they’ve been grown under responsible conditions. Try to buy from small-scale sustainable growers. You could also keep an eye out for Fair Trees, which supports fair trade practices in Georgia, where most of the seeds come from (you can find the trees online at Fairwindonline).

You can also choose to buy a tree with roots, that you can replant and use year after year. Our local highstreet florist stocks cute little trees in pots that would suit even tiny London backgardens.

Decorations

The most fun part of the Christmas tree is decorating it. I have a peculiar horror of “fashions” in tree decorations – what happens if you buy red and gold decorations one year only for the fashion to be for blue and silver the next year? Do you just chuck all everything out? Seems not only wasteful but stupidly expensive…

In our family, we buy an ornament as a souvenir of places we visit. Myself and my husband started this tradition when we first got together 8 years ago and it means we buy 2 or 3 decorations a year. And each decoration has a special meaning for us, and it’s fun to remember the places we’ve been while putting them up. It also means we can support craft shops in places we visit without cluttering our tiny flat with too much stuff!

Homemade decorations are also loads of fun, particularly if children are involved in making them. Our Christmas tree at work has homemade decorations this year, made by staff members volunteering at craft sessions at a local day centre for the elderly. There are some lovely things on it. I’m particularly taken with the sparkly, upcycled CDs, like this one:

Or this one:

Of course a Christmas tree just wouldn’t be right without lights. The best choice is to choose LEDs. They’re much more energy efficient. And the simplest energy saving tip of all is to remember to switch them off when it’s not dark!

After Christmas

If you’re using a tree with roots, then of course you’re going to replant it after Christmas.  But many of us will be using a cut tree, so it’s vital to recycle it after use. Many councils and garden centres run recycling points, where you can drop off your tree for it to be turned into lovely mulch or composted properly.

Recycling your Christmas tree makes a great green new year’s resolution, it means you start the year as you mean to go on!

On the Second Day of Christmas…

6 Dec
…my true love sent to me, a huge pile of Christmas cards. 
 
Christmas cards are one of those festive traditions that provoke a lot of debate. Many people feel it’s not even worth sending them, in this age of social media and email. They think they’re a waste of money and a waste of resources. They just don’t see the point in these old-fashioned bits of souped-up paper with handwriting inside.  
 
Which is fair enough, especially if they’re acting out of an eco-impulse to conserve the resources involved in printing and shipping cards. Though I particularly admire people who combine this with donating the money they would have spent on cards to a charity instead (as MummyBarrow is doing over at her blog).  
 
But for me there is still very much a point to sending (and receiving!) cards. We live abroad from most of our extended family and most of that extended family aren’t actually on email, let alone on Facebook and Twitter. So Christmas cards are often the only direct communication we have all year and are tangible reminders of that person or that family.  
 
So if you decide to send Christmas cards, what’s the greenest way to go about it? 
 
Recycled cards – Choosing recycled cards is a great green step to take. It’s a good way of supporting the recycled paper industry. There are also loads of lovely recycled cards to choose from, like this selection from Nigel’s Ecostore.
 
Charity cards – We always buy charity Christmas cards, but it’s something you have to be careful about. Most retailers stock “charity” cards, where as little as 2% of the cost of the cards go to the named charity (read more about it here). We buy from Card Aid, as they have so many pop-up shops across London that it’s easy to buy them. It means we can choose to support lesser known charities like Knit for Peace.  
 
Make your own – this is aimed mostly at the crafty amongst us. For some, there’s nothing better than making your own cards and it certainly helps make a card as personal as possible. It’s also a great way of getting children involved in the preparations for Christmas. We’re making some cards this year (by “we” I mean I’m letting my toddler son go mad with finger paints and then assuming his grandparents will be delighted with them!).
 
Upcycle & Recycle – what you do with the cards you receive is just as important as the cards you send. You can upcycle cards into lots of things, from bookmarks to gift tags for presents. I tend to turn ours into gift tags, though you could also use them if making your own cards for next year. Otherwise it’s important to recycle your cards. In the UK, you can avail of the Woodland Trust’s highstreet recycling centres
 
 
 

On the First Day of Christmas…

2 Dec
I know, I know…it’s crazy early to be writing about Christmas. But it is Advent, and we’re now into December…and my childminder put her tree up today so my toddler thinks it’s getting festive…and..well…I just love Christmas! I love getting together with family and friends, celebrating and feasting together, and generally brightening up the gloom of mid-winter. What’s not to love?
Well, quite a lot really. I don’t love all the consumerism and stress associated with it. I don’t love all the angst and waste and general greediness as people try to celebrate the “perfect” Christmas (whatever that is!). And I definitely don’t love the idea of my son growing up with the idea that Christmas is all about consuming and spending and taking. So I thought I’d do a series of posts over the next few weeks on how to have a low-impact Christmas (ahem, set to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas). With a tiny bit of thought and effort, it’s easy to green your Christmas (and green is a festive colour after all!).
So, on the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me..a partridge in a pear tree. Actually no, it was a turkey in a pear tree instead.
Turkeys are synonymous with Christmas. Ever since Mr Scrooge treated Bob Cratchit to one, we’ve been enjoying turkey on Christmas day. 10 million turkeys are eaten every Christmas and the vast majority are reared in pretty dire battery conditions. So the first thing you can do to green your Christmas is to try to only buy a turkey reared in humane, free-range conditions. Turkeys are sociable birds and need space to flock together properly.
Ideally, the turkey should be from a local supplier (to keep food miles down) and be organic too. You can buy turkeys from local farmers through your butcher or even from the farm directly. Free-range and organic turkeys are also available in most supermarkets. Though, realistically, when you’re feeding the hordes, cost can be an issue. So just buy whatever best suits your budget and your conscience.
Of course you don’t have to have turkey. You could serve goose, which was traditionally served long before turkey became ubiquitous (“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat”). Or something like venison. Where I’m from, the ham and spiced beef are as important as the turkey so we have had turkey-free dinners in the past.
You could even do the greenest thing and have a meat-free Christmas (any vegetarians or vegans reading will be thinking, er, that’s not so radical…). In our household we try to keep the amount of meat we eat low, and organic/free-range/local where possible. So at Christmas I don’t feel so bad about sitting down to a Christmas dinner of turkey, ham and spiced beef.
Little known turkey fact: Did you know that male turkeys are called stags? They’re called toms in the US but stags in Europe. Turkey chicks are called poults. I  know this seems like useless info but you never know, it could pop up as a pub quiz question some day!