The

Climate Challenge

Small steps to a smallerfootprint

A year of weekly challenges to reduce your negative impact on our natural world.

We know our world is incrisis,and while the responsibility to fix this is largely a burden for governments and corporations we can all take action to show thatwemeanbusiness.

Take me to this week

Take me to this week

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Week

One

28/12/2020

And a happy (green) New Year!

Let’s commit to lowering our footprints in 2021. “How?” you ask. Well...

As you may have noticed we’re drawing to the end of another year. Most people seem pretty happy about that and for good reason. On the whole, 2020 hasn’t been one of the best. In fact, for many, it’s been one of the worst in living memory. However, there’s one pretty hefty reason why we should at least somewhat mourn the unending churn of time: it brings us ever closer to a seemingly impending climate catastrophe.

That’s what this is all about, but what is ‘this’? In 20 words it's: a year of weekly challenges to lower the footprint of aspects of everyday life that you can have an impact on. Okay, that’s 21 words but who cares?

Speaking personally, there are many things in the coming 52 (51 now I guess) weeks that I hadn’t even considered the impact of. Once you’re aware it’s difficult to forget but luckily pretty easy to change. If this sounds like something you’re interested in then just head over to the join page and sign up. I’ll notify you once a week when the next footprint shrinking challenge is live. The majority of the actions are quick, and for those that are a little more tasking, you’ve only got to manage it for one week. The idea isn’t to turn everyone into a vegan, climate campaigning, everywhere cycling hero, but rather to encourage you to trial small changes in your life in the hopes that you might stick with some, or all, of them and along the way become more aware of the challenges that face our species in the coming years.At this point you might be thinking, “Can I really make a difference?” and that’s completely valid. It’s absolutely vital that governments and corporations take immediate, ambitious actions to reduce the pollution of our one and only planet. According to many scientists, we’re at the point that if we are to remain below 1.5°C or 2°C of warming we’ll need to enact ‘geoengineering projects’ (either by artificially changing the makeup of the atmosphere to keep out the Sun’s energy - sounds pretty sci-fi, right? - or by carbon capture and storage technology). These are clearly things you and I simply can’t do by ourselves. However, most governments and corporations feed off of money and power that can only be awarded to them by the public. So I strongly believe that the more people are signed up and participating in projects like this the more those who need the public to survive will be forced into changing their ways.

Still need more convincing? On the Learn More page there’s loads of information about what this challenge is, how it works, and why, now more than ever, taking action on climate change is the big chief among all of the tasks that life will throw at us.

So with the intro out of the way let’s get down to our first ever challenge. See how you measure up, take a note of your current footprint, and commit to having a smaller one in t-minus 52 weeks. There are plenty of sites that will let you calculate your current yearly carbon footprint but the best are WWF’s Footprint Calculator for those of us in the UK, CoolClimate Calculator for anyone based in the US, and Carbon Footprint Calculator for anyone based outside of those two countries. Once you’ve got your figure write it down somewhere you won’t forget about it: your phone, a sticky note, or write it on your forehead and don’t wash for a year - not a bad way of saving energy if you think about it (joking). Take a look at that number and think how much you might like to reduce it by. The WWF calculator has helpful UK and world averages as well as the figure we need to be hitting if we’re going to gradually reduce to net zero emissions by 2050.

Finally, if you’ve decided to or are even thinking about joining me on this journey, thank you very much. It’s taken a lot of work to get it set up but even if only a handful of people come along for the ride it will have been a better use of my time than what I would have otherwise been doing (realistically playing games and watching Netflix). I’d love it if you could share this challenge with your friends and family and get even more people involved. The more people taking action will bring more attention from the people with the power to make the monumental changes needed.

Impact:

An awareness of your Carbon Footprint.

References

Video:
[1] 80 million tonnes of fish each year - The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2020), http://www.fao.org/state-of-fisheries-aquaculture/en/.
[2] 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs - A Life on Our Planet, David Attenborough (2020), p. 96, Witness Books.
[3] 15 billion trees are cut down a year - Ibid., 97.
[4] Our bodies and the animals we eat make up 96% of all animal mass on the planet - The biomass distribution on Earth, Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, Ron Milo (June, 2018), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (25) 6506-6511; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1711842115.
[5] 10,000 people die from air pollution related illnesses every single day - Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet, 2nd ed., DARA (2012), p. 17, https://daraint.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/CVM2ndEd-FrontMatter.pdf.
[6] 33 gigatonnes of CO2 a year globally - Global CO2 emissions in 2019, IEA (2020), https://www.iea.org/articles/global-co2-emissions-in-2019.
[7] atmospheric CO2 levels of 410 parts per million - Carbon Dioxide Concentration at Mauna Loa Observatory, Scripps Institute of Oceanography (December 2010), https://sioweb.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/
[8] last seen at least 3.5 million years ago when temperatures were 2-3 degrees warmer and sea levels were 10-20 meters higher - Carbon Dioxide Levels Grew at Record Pace in 2016, Tom Miles (October 2017), Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/carbon-dioxide-levels-grew-at-record-pace-in-2016/.

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Week

Two

04/01/2021

Pack Up Your Plastic in Your Old Kit-Bag

Become a plastic hoarder for the week (just for the week)

Last week we looked at our overall carbon (or equivalents) footprint. Unfortunately, that only gives us a slice of our total environmental impact. Although global warming caused by humanity-induced changes in the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses is probably our biggest threat, there are a myriad of other ways we’re rapidly laying waste to our home. There’s deforestation, mainly for livestock or palm oil production; habitat destruction, mainly caused by that deforestation; over-fertilization of our farmlands, which will eventually lead to severely reduced crop yields; chemical pollution of our freshwater rivers and the depletion of our ocean’s fish stocks, just to name a few. This week focuses on an aspect that we’re probably all very aware of: plastic pollution.

Firstly, I want to make one thing clear. Plastic isn’t an evil creation whose use in the world today is an all-out crime against nature. Its use for medical purposes has enabled countless lifesaving procedures, plastic door and window frames have helped to improve home energy efficiency and the shipping impact of many products is massively reduced by the use of plastic packaging instead of materials thought of as eco-friendly. This post was written on a plastic keyboard with the assistance of a plastic computer mouse while I myself am sitting on a chair made, at least partly, of plastic.

The issue is our relatively recent fascination with unnecessary plastic and our ability to throw it into a big plastic tub on our curbside and never have it trouble our minds again. That second point is our challenge for this week. Let’s try not to simply use and forget.

Statistics show us that in the UK we create just under 1.5kg of plastic waste per person per week [1]. That’s by no means the worst mind, the US sits at just under 2.4kg and Germany exceeds 3.3kg. For me that 1.5kg figure doesn’t immediately seem like a huge amount, but when you think of it as 76kg of plastic a year and consider how light most plastic is the sheer volume of waste becomes apparent. So this week instead of hiding away your plastic waste, pile it all together so at the end of the week we can see exactly what our impact is. To go a step further, make a note of each item so you can see which aspects of your life are generating the most polymer-pollution. There’ll be plenty of opportunities in the coming challenges to swap these out for plastic-free alternatives, but feel free to get ahead of the curve and take a few weeks off further down the line.

Should we be collecting all plastics or just those that can’t be recycled? Unfortunately, the answer is that we really need to be looking at our entire plastic use as it’s clear that serious amounts of recyclable plastic aren’t making their way through the system. In the UK around 45% of all recyclable goods are actually recycled [2], and that’s a pretty good figure internationally. However, the Recoup UK Household Plastics Collection Survey 2019 [3] suggests that the recycling figure for plastics alone is only a little over one third, and it’s important to note that this is only plastic collected for recycling. The paper estimates that anywhere between 15-50% of plastic that enters the recycling system doesn’t actually get recycled in the end.

The idea here isn’t to just make our houses look like a skip or that in the long term you should just never let go of any plastic, but rather to give us all an idea of exactly how much plastic waste we’re throwing away every week to make us aware of our very immediate, personal impacts.

For extra brownie points take a picture of your plastic-y pile at the end of the week and post it on your social media to raise awareness. Tag me in on the post and I’ll reply with some out of this world memes (out of this world is not a legally binding commitment).

Impact:

An awareness of your plastic pollution volume.

References

Post
[1] Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., ... & Law, K. L. (2015), Science, 347(6223), 768-771, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768/.
[2] UK Statistics on Waste, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (March 2020), p. 1, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/918270/UK_Statistics_on_Waste_statistical_notice_March_2020_accessible_FINAL_updated_size_12.pd.
[3] UK Household Plastics Collection Survey 2019, Recoup (2019), https://www.recoup.org/p/89/uk-household-plastic-collection-survey-2019.

Video:
[1] Historic yearly plastic production - Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017), Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full.
[2] roughly equivalent to the weight of between 2/3 and the entire human population - Plastic Pollution, Our World in Data, Hannah Ritchie (2018), https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution.
[3] Historic plastic disposal - Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017), Science, Vol. 347(6223), e1700782, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full.
[4] 2 million plastic bags a minute - Plastic Bags Fact Sheet, Earth Policy Institute (October, 2014), http://www.earth-policy.org/press_room/C68/plastic_bags_fact_sheet.
[5] Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes - How New York dropped the ball on plastic bags, Tim Donnelly (January, 2018), https://theoutline.com/post/2998/new-york-city-plastic-bag-ban-law?zd=2&zi=uoaxbap6.
[6] 8 million pieces of plastic enter the ocean each day - Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean, Jambeck, J. R., et al., Science, vol. 347, no. 6223, 13 Feb. 2015, pp. 768–771., https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768.
[7] Hirai, H., Takada, H., Ogata, Y., Yamashita, R., Mizukawa, K., Saha, M., Kwan, C., Moore, C., Gray,H., Laursen, D., Zettler, E. R., Farrington, J. W., Reddy, C. M., Peacock, E. E. & Ward, M. W (2011), Organic micropollutants in marine plastics debris from the open ocean and remote and urban beaches, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 62, p. 1683-1692.
[8] Impacts on marine life - Plastic Pollution, Our World in Data, Hannah Ritchie (2018), https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution#how-does-plastic-impact-wildlife-and-human-health
[9] UK average daily plastic waste per person - Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017), Science, Vol. 347(6223), 768-771, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full.

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Week

Three

11/01/2021

Have you got anything without SPAM in it?

Block yourself from receiving carbon generating spam mail

Dominos, taxi companies, teeth whitening, gyms, energy, internet, phone repair and window cleaning. What do all of these have in common? I’ve received an unsolicited flyer through my letterbox from each of them in just the last few weeks. You probably already know what happened to that flyer. The vast majority made one short trip from the doormat to the bottom of a recycling bin. The lucky ones spent a couple of days in a messy pile on a desk, table or chair before I finally got around to scrapping them.

As you can see in this week’s video, these seemingly harmless pieces of junk mail can have a sizable environmental impact, and, realistically, all for nothing. I would struggle to remember a time where I found genuine use from a marketing letter and certainly couldn’t recall one where the information wasn’t more easily available online. Plus, they’re just kind of annoying. So without further ado, here are four steps to cutting down on your postal junk mail:

Put up a sign
Around half of all unaddressed junk mail isn’t delivered by anyone official, rather it’s just businesses paying someone to drop flyers round in the area (think takeaway menus and estate agent leaflets). Obviously, a sign isn’t going to stand up in court, but it’s worth a try to see if they think twice before dumping their “amazing deals” on your doorstep. You could even try to let them know the environmental reason you don’t want their leaflets.

Register with Royal Mail’s Door To Door Opt-Out
Royal Mail themselves deliver a good chunk of the unaddressed junk mail that comes through your letterbox. There’s a system in place to get them to stop bundling this rubbish with your legitimate post. Unfortunately, to make it slightly harder, or perhaps to keep themselves in a job, you have to send them a form by good old snail mail. In 2021, there’s no way to do this online. The good news is that it’s a freepost address and the form is easy to get here. They are obligated to still deliver any addressed mail, including those that are simply addressed ‘To the Homeowner’ or ‘Occupants’, and their site says that they work with the government to still deliver mail that is deemed to be in ‘the national interest’. The opt-out only lasts for two years so we’ll have to go through this process again in 2023, hopefully when they’ve realised we’re in the 21st century.

DMA’s Your Choice Scheme
Another group that makes you contact them by post is the Data & Marketing Association. They have an opt-out scheme that will stop any companies who are members of the DMA from sending you their junk. The DMA, like Royal Mail, assumes that this preference only lasts two years and after that time you’ll be pining for your junk mail and just quietly opt you back in, so you’ll have to do this form again too. Find the form here.

Register with the Mail Preference Service
Finally, for addressed junk mail you can register online with the Mail Preference Service. This preference list is a requirement for all advertisers to use as set out in the British Code of Advertising. Find it here.

Bonus round - Return to sender
If you’ve taken the steps above and have waited the few months each action takes to fully kick in but are still receiving junk mail, instead of doing the recycling yourself make the sender do it. Scribble out your name and address and just mark it as ‘return to sender’ and post it back, you don’t even have to pay. Again, you can add a message about why you don’t want their carbon creating junk mail. If it’s a properly addressed item (your actual name not ‘the occupant’ etc.) you could also invoke some fun GDPR rules by adding, inside the envelope, your name, address, the date, a date you wish to stop receiving these letters (a month is reasonable) and this line “Please stop processing my personal data for direct marketing purposes in accordance with Article 21 of the General Data Protection Regulations.”

When it comes to digital spam we can also measure the footprint of each and every dubious prince, suspicious family member in dire need or cryptocurrency sales rep. Even emails that you have technically, although often unconsciously, agreed to receive are creating unnecessary pollution.

While it’s true that spam email has got a surprisingly large footprint to answer for, we’ll focus on the less insidious kind of email. Not just because we love to have a little laugh at some of the unbelievable spam that we receive, but because there’s not a lot more we can do about it. Our email service providers already filter out a huge amount of spam and the best way we can help is just to call out anything that slips through the net. Most mailboxes will have a ‘flag as spam’ option.

Although you might not remember doing it, you’ve probably signed up to dozens of mailing lists over the years. Personally, there are several companies who I get numerous emails from every week that I immediately delete or archive to read later (then never do). Each of these has a footprint so take a look through your trash or archive folder and have a think about which of these you really get any value from and use the unsubscribe button hidden somewhere at the bottom of the email to ask them to stop sending these to you.

So there you have it, some steps to cut out annoying junk and also cut down your environmental footprint. If you spot any particularly good lines from any spam emails while looking through your inbox this week give me a shout on social media. My favorite last week was the definitely legit Google employee who was offering me the once in a lifetime chance to “knock down the opportunity to raise your spirits and forget for a while what is happening there” I still have no idea where ‘there’ is.

Impact:

Postal: 180.9kg CO2e per household per year

Email: 1.4kg CO2e per person per year

How is this calculated?

Yearly addressed items (475.5) + Yearly unaddressed items (171.6) = 646.1
646.1 x 0.280kg = 180.908kg

One less email a day (365) x Regular email impact (0.004kg) = 1.46
More if you cut out more emails!

References

Video:
[1] The average UK household receives around 1.3 addressed items a day - 2018 DIRECT MAIL FACTS & FIGURES, Data & Marketing Association, Nilda Cerna, https://dma.org.uk/article/2018-direct-mail-facts-figures.
[2] The average UK household receives 3.3 unaddressed items a week - Annual Door Drop Report, Data & Marketing Association (2020), p. 7, https://dma.org.uk/uploads/misc/final_doordropreport2020.pdf.
[3] A single letter emits 29 grams of CO2e - How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, Mike Berners-Lee's (2010)
[4] a little over a quarter of addressed items are binned… for [unaddressed] items we can see that 28 days after delivery 85.8% of them have made their way to the bottom of a bin - 2018 DIRECT MAIL FACTS & FIGURES, Data & Marketing Association, Nilda Cerna, https://dma.org.uk/article/2018-direct-mail-facts-figures.
[5] Spam emails emit 0.3 grams of CO2e - How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, Mike Berners-Lee's (2010)
[6] Regular emails emit 4 grams of CO2e - Ibid.
[7] 84% of email traffic is spam - Email & Spam Data, Talos Intelligence (November, 2020) https://talosintelligence.com/reputation_center/email_rep.
[8] the UK could save around 16,433 tonnes of Co2e a year - ‘Think Before You Thank’: If every Brit sent one less thank you email a day, we would save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year - the same as 81,152 flights to Madrid, OVO Energy (November, 2019), https://www.ovoenergy.com/ovo-newsroom/press-releases/2019/november/think-before-you-thank-if-every-brit-sent-one-less-thank-you-email-a-day-we-would-save-16433-tonnes-of-carbon-a-year-the-same-as-81152-flights-to-madrid.html
[9] That’s equivalent to 81,152 flights from London to Madrid - Ibid.

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Week

Four

18/01/2021

Gone in 60 Seconds

Knock a degree off your thermostat setting

This week’s challenge has got to be one of the easiest and quickest to complete. So similarly this post will be a relatively short one as there’s not much to say in the way of tips and tricks.

Whether your thermostat is a fancy smart one, a digital one or an old-school one, turning it down by just one degree really shouldn’t take you more than a minute and you probably won’t even notice the temperature difference. Given that we’re right in the middle of the two coldest months in the UK, this change should have a decent impact before we switch our heating off or to its summer setting.

What if your heating is electric? While electric heating is far more efficient in general than gas it’s still worth the saving. Even if you get your electricity through a 100% renewables tariff it’s important that we all reduce our energy consumption so that the switch to green energy can happen even sooner.

And it’s really as simple as that. A fairly sizable chunk of your footprint is gone in just a minute and a not to be sniffed at saving for your wallet to boot. As always for more information check out the video accompanying this post.

*Correction - Total UK heating emissions should be in millions

Impact:

336.6kg CO2e & ~£60 per household per year

How is this calculated?

Estimated energy saving in kWh (1530) x low range gas boiler emissions per kWh (0.220kg) = 336.6kg

Estimated energy saving in kWh (1530) x average £ per kWh for gas (0.0417) = 63.8

References

Video:
[1] 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by ‘Electricity and Heat’ production - CAIT Climate Data Explorer via. Climate Watch, https://www.climatewatchdata.org/data-explorer/historical-emissions.
[2] 37% of the UK’s emissions come from heat production - Clean Growth - Transforming Heating, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, December 2018, p. 13, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/766109/decarbonising-heating.pdf.
[3] 43% of the UK’s heat emissions are generated by ‘Domestic Space Heating’ - Ibid., p. 16.
[4] 85% of dwelling based space heating is gas central heating - English Housing Survey - Energy efficiency, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2016, p. 5, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/724339/Energy_efficiency_2016.pdf
[5] Air conditioning uses 10% of all electricity - The Future of Cooling: Opportunities for Energy-Efficient Air-Conditioning, International Energy Agency 2018, p. 24, www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/The_Future_Of_Cooling.pdf.
[6] is expected to triple or even quadruple by 2050 - Ibid., p. 24.
[7] Estimated increases in city temperature during the hottest month by 2050, Climate change: How hot cities could be in 2050, BBC, July 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-48947573.
[8] Turning your thermostat down two degrees is the second most impactful, small, everyday change a household can make to their heating energy usage - How much energy could be saved by making small changes to everyday household behaviours?, Jason Palmer, Nicola Terry, Peter Pope, p. 5, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/128720/6923-how-much-energy-could-be-saved-by-making-small-cha.pdf
[9] The study calculates an average household saving of 1,530 kWh of energy every year. Or roughly a 13% reduction - How much energy could be saved by making small changes to everyday household behaviours?, Jason Palmer, Nicola Terry, Peter Pope, p. 15, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/128720/6923-how-much-energy-could-be-saved-by-making-small-cha.pdf.
[10] Average emissions per kWh for a modern gas boiler - Carbon Footprint of Heat Generation, Houses of Parliament Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology ,p. 2, https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/POST-PN-0523/POST-PN-0523.pdf.
[11] Average cost of a kWh of energy from gas - Energy Saving Trust, https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/about-us/our-data/

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Week

Five

25/01/2021

Stock your plastic-free arsenal

Switch out some everyday items for reusable alternatives

Having already seen how much plastic we throw away each week, let’s take a look at some everyday products that we can switch out to plastic-free alternatives. Three things to note before I start:

1) No one paid me to recommend these products and they’re all items I have used personally. There are plenty of other brands of most of these products, and you might even find a local store or brand selling them so you can support small businesses at the same time!
2) You don’t have to buy everything on this list. They’re just suggestions. You might not need all of them or might already own a few.
3) It seems unfair for me to suggest everybody buys things that I already own. After all, these are supposed to be challenges we’re doing together, so I’ll be doing a little giveaway of one of these items over on my social media pages. So check it out if you want a chance to make me pay for your challenge this week!

Reusable cups -
I have always been amazed at how far from a chain restaurant you can find it’s branded, discarded remains. Until recently, the town I grew up in didn’t have one of these chains within a 15-20 minute drive, and yet, the hedgerows and grass verges were disrupted every few hundred meters with a Costa cup here and a Mcdonald’s bag there.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, the jettisoned scraps a canary in the coal mine of a wider issue. I have no doubt that a vast majority of this rubbish is responsibly disposed of, but, while it might look like paper and crumple in your hand like paper, most of this packaging is lined in a thin layer of plastic. This means even if someone wishfully recycles them, they normally end up being too expensive or time-consuming for waste collectors to separate, meaning they’ll be incinerated or landfilled.

The brand of these that I’ve used before is Huski Cups. Like a few other brands, with confusingly similar names, they make their cups out of rice or coffee husks, a usually discarded bi-product of both crops. The best part about these cups is that although you might have to make an initial investment you’ll actually earn this money back pretty easily. Most chains and many independent coffee shops will offer you a small discount (somewhere around 10-25p for most) for using a reusable cup and you could save even more money by just bringing your hot drink from home and not have to drink the, let’s face it, sub-par coffee of most chains (no shade on independent coffee shops, your stuff is delicious).

Beeswax wraps -
Probably one of my favorite items on this list, and maybe the one fewest of you are likely to already own, beeswax wraps are a great alternative to clingfilm. Non-recyclable and with an, admittedly small but still present, chance of chemical contamination of food, clingfilm should absolutely be on our ‘stop using’ list.

The price might seem a little steep but don’t forget that these are entirely reusable. They do eventually run out of stick after around a year, but when this happens you can easily buy a bar of beeswax to re-wax your wraps(try saying that three times fast).

If you’re a vegan who doesn’t eat insect produce - is that all vegans? - then there are some alternatives to beeswax wraps. I have to admit that I haven’t tried them personally but I don’t see any reason why soy or sunflower wax wouldn’t work just as well.

In the UK, Lakeland has also just released a compostable clingfilm. I’ve not tried it yet but definitely worth a go if you’ve got something that you can’t use a beeswax wrap for.

Here's a suggested brand to get your wraps from, but there's so many people making them now you can pick them up in loads of different places.

Straws -

Whether it’s an unconscious conservation step or, more likely, a futile, and based purely on flawed stereotypes, attempt to defend by masculinity, I don’t find myself using straws very often. However, I know a lot of people do. That much is clear from the sheer volume of them we get through every year.

There’s a simple and relatively cheap way to solve the issue. The answer is metal straws. They’re easily portable, come in a range of colours and have enough oomph to suck up the thickest of milkshakes. Of course, the other answer is just to not use them, but if you’re someone who needs a straw, check these out.

Tote bag -
We’re all aware of the issues with plastic bags; from blocking drains and sewers to clogging up the insides of our largest sea creatures. The simple antidote is a tote bag. Although there has been some suggestion that these are actually worse for your carbon footprint than a single-use plastic bag, you can resolve this by using it plenty of times.

Tote bags are everywhere, but again check out some Etsy shops or a local independent shop to help out some eco-businesses.

I’m going to hazard a guess that some of you already have all of the above, but you can’t get away with it that easily. You could either pick up one of these items as a gift for a friend or member of your family or take a look at the following bonus buy. Next time your reaching for a pencil to write that all-important note make it one that grows into a plant after you’ve got your use out of it. Pretty cool right. Check out these pencils that contain a capsule of seeds on the end so you can plant it once you’ve scribbled to your heart’s content. On their own site in the EU (unsure if this means we can’t in the UK) or on Amazon.

These are just the products I’ve personally used but if there’s something you’ve loved that you want to shout out please share it on social media or through the contact page.

Impact:

A reduction in however much of these items you personally use!

References

Video:
[1] Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups, House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (Dec 2017), https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/657/657.pdf.
[2] Biodegradable Clingfilm Launched, Harry Wallop, The Telegraph, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/8521144/Biodegradable-cling-film-launched.html.
[3] PVC cling films: enhanced sustainability, less food waste, Vinyl Films and Sheets Europe, https://www.vfse.org/post/2019/06/28/pvc-cling-films-enhanced-sustainability-less-food-waste.
[4] A preliminary assessment of the economic, environmental and social impacts of a potential ban on plastic straws, plastic stem cotton buds and plastics drinks stirrers., Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, (May, 2018), http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&ProjectID=20086&FromSearch=Y&Publisher=1&SearchText=EQ0115&SortString=ProjectCode&SortOrder=Asc&Paging=10.
[5] HSU straw analysis, Humboldt State University, 2018, https://www.appropedia.org/HSU_straw_analysis.
[6] Single-use plastic carrier bags charge: data in England for 2018 to 2019, Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carrier-bag-charge-summary-of-data-in-england/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-charge-data-in-england-for-2018-to-2019.

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Week

Six

01/02/2021

The One You’ve All Been Waiting For

Cut the most polluting food out of your diet

To sum it up:- Try and go as vegetarian as possible this week - ideally 100%!

I suppose you’ve probably been expecting this one since we started. It may be the cliche challenge to reduce your environmental footprint, but there’s a reason why - it’s one of the best ways. The idea this week is to try and go as veggie as possible. If you can cut out all meat, great, but the most unnecessarily polluting food is wasted food, so don’t throw out any meat you might already have just to complete this week’s challenge.

The good news for anyone dreading this week is that it’s really so much easier than it was just a few years ago. Mock meats are increasingly common and often command an expanding area in many supermarkets. While you might find you love meat too much to ditch it for good, you might also find some delicious veggie meals or products that can help you reduce your meat intake going forward.

What about pescetarianism? It’s actually thought that some of the very first, purposeful ‘vegetarians’ ate fish, making them pescetarian by today’s standards. But nowadays is it really a good idea to still eat fish? The answer is, as with many foods, that it depends on where it comes from. The evidence suggests that farmed fish can emit fewer greenhouse gases than many types of meat and dairy and have a better land usage rate than some pulses and nuts. However, the case against fish is also strong. It can have comparatively high water quality impacts and poorly managed sea fishing can lead, and in some cases has already led, to collapsing of fish stocks in certain areas, thereby damaging the ecosystem. The main aim is just to reduce our intake of more environmentally impactful foods, so if you currently eat fish twice a week try and only consume it once.

If you’re on the journey to improve your environmental footprint, there’s also a pretty good chance you’ve already taken this step, so here are some further challenges for the veggies among us. Firstly, you could try going as vegan as possible, or just cut out one non-vegan product. The most impactful to cut out would be anything dairy, and there are so many good alternatives, especially for milk, nowadays, so it’s really not that hard. The second extra challenge would be to encourage others. If we lived in slightly different times, I would suggest organising a vegetarian meal for some non-veggies, but given the current circumstances, we’ll have to make do with just sharing your favourite, relatively simple vegetarian recipes. I’d also love to see these recipes so please feel free to tag me in them on social media or send them directly to me.

Finally, there’s an argument that I often see from pro-meat sources: that food miles (the distance a food item has had to travel to get to your plate) for vegetarian foods are much higher due to the produce being grown in warmer climates half the world away (think avocados and soybeans). The issue with this argument is that it doesn’t only affect vegetarians. While the mince or sausages you’re buying are likely 100% British (or local to your country) meat, it’s a lot more difficult to tell what that animal was originally fed. In 2015 the EU was already importing 60kg of soybeans for every single person. Clearly, we’re not all directly eating that much. A large chunk of that import was going into animal feed when we could have been getting the nutrients right from the source.

Essentially, it’s massively important that we look at where our food comes from, but that goes for every diet. We’ll look at this in the future for sure, but for now, we’re focussing on our intake of meat.

As always, if there are any questions about the challenge let me know, and feel free to share your best veggie finds with me, either on social media or directly via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

Impact:

780kg CO2e per person per year

How is this calculated?

From Mike Berners-Lee, How Bad Are Bananas?, 2020.

References

Video:
[1] 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions are generated from rearing livestock - Tackling Climate Change through Livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities, FAO (2013), http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf
[2] 15kg more CO2 equivalent each week - How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, Mike Berners-Lee's (2020)
[3] Food comparisons - Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, J. Poore and T. Nemecek (2018), https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987
[4] 60% of all deforestation...is caused by beef farming - Trading forests: land-use change and carbon emissions embodied in production and exports of forest-risk commodities, Sabine Henders, U Martin Persson and Thomas Kastner (2015), https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/125012/pdf
[5] plant based is just under $750 cheaper per year - Economical Healthy Diets, Maruy M. Flynn and Andrew R. Schiff (2013), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19320248.2015.1045675?journalCode=when20

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Week

Seven

08/02/2021

Roses Are Red And Surprisingly Polluting

Switch your Valentine’s day from red to green

To sum it up:- Choose some less polluting ways to say ‘I love you’ this Valentine’s day. Below are some suggestions but your creativity is really the limit. Go wild.

As you may or may not remember, the end of this week is Valentine’s day - everyone out there who had forgotten, you’re very welcome. While you could argue that the over-commercialisation of Valentine’s day flies quite directly in the face of a less wasteful, more minimal lifestyle, there are still good ways that you can show someone that you care.

This challenge may seem pretty exclusionary to single people, but, if you’re not in a position to gift someone this February 14th or you just choose not to celebrate Valentine’s day, you can store these tips for the next birthday you have coming up as most of the suggestions still apply.

Cards
Most likely, your Valentine’s offering is going to center around a card, in which you can spill your beautifully written, or perhaps not so much, love letter to your better half. However, from the plastic wrapping to the plastic lining used to make the cards glossy, they can be a nightmare for recycling centers.

The best option to reduce waste is to make your own card. This might work wonders for you if you’ve got a talent for arts and crafts. However, for me at least, the card I would make would be cute coming from a 10-year-old but a little sad, and possibly concerning, coming from a 22-year-old.

Failing this, as I 100% would, the next best option is to pick up a recyclable card - preferably made from recyclable materials themselves. You may well find some of these in your local supermarket but I’d suggest trying to help out a small business if you can. You can try a local card shop but my personal favorite is Etsy for this kind of thing. To go that extra step, have a look for some plantable seed cards so you can make your Valentine’s gift environmentally positive.

Flowers
I was pretty surprised at the impact of those extortionately priced, classic dozen roses, and the comparisons from European to African grown roses shows that it’s not a case of just buying locally. The ideal would be to pick your own flowers but with very little knowledge of wildflowers, I couldn’t exactly suggest how or where. If you’ve got a local florist you could ask them where their flowers are from and if they were grown in greenhouses this time of year.

The second option would be to get something a little longer lasting to show your affection. Flowers are great and all but you only really get a few days or, at most, a couple of weeks of ‘use’ out of them. Try either getting something non-floral that you SO actually wants or, if they’re into plants, try a potted house plant that they can cherish for a long time.

The biggest thing to avoid - I’ll admit to this having been the only type I’ve ever bought in previous years - are those wrapped in plastic that you normally get in supermarkets.

Chocolates
Finally, who could forget the cliched love heart-shaped box of chocolates? The advice here is two-fold but pretty straightforward. One, the less packaging the better, and I find this also helps to root out those sneaky companies with the fancy packaging and about three chocolates. Two, make sure you’re buying fair-trade. This ensures that not only will the chocolate meet certain environmental standards but also it’s fair to the producers who are often in some of the world’s poorest regions.

I hope that the above tips are helpful. Let me know if you have any other plans to reduce your environmental footprint this February 14th.

Impact:

Card: 77g CO2e & a Plastic Waste reduction

Flowers: 30.5kg CO2e from switching to UK grown outdoor-grown flowers

Chocolate: 205g CO2e from switching from milk to dark chocolate

How is this calculated?

From Mike Berners-Lee, How Bad Are Bananas?, 2020. And Environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK, Antonios Konstantas, Harish K. Jeswani, Laurence Stamford, Adisa Azapagic, Food Research International, 2018, (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996918301273)

References

Video:
[1] 92g of CO2e… 15g of CO2e - How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, Mike Berners-Lee's (2020)
[2] flower impact measurements - Ibid.
[3] 4.15kg of CO2e & 10,000 litres of water - Environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK, Antonios Konstantas, Harish K. Jeswani, Laurence Stamford, Adisa Azapagic, Food Research International, 2018, (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996918301273)
[4] German study - Ibid.

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Week

Eight

15/02/2021

A helpful tip from my mum & dad (thanks)

Print off and display your local recycling rules in your kitchen

Local recycling rules can be hard. Do you know your tetrapaks rules from your coffee cup rules? How about your paper rules from your kitchen towel rules? Even your clear plastic tray rules from your black plastic tray rules? No, me neither.


I’m a stressful, flustered cook, the kind where every ingredient is out at once and a good percentage of the food is on the kitchen surface, floor, or ceiling, so when it comes to finishing a product I’ve rarely got time to study the recycling rules on the back of the packet before my spag bol starts burning or my water boils over. Inevitably, this leads to me just slam-dunking whatever it is into the nearest bin and then having to rifle through later to sort it out.


However, even when time is on my side, and I have a moment to check the packaging, I’m confronted with ‘Widely recycled’ or even worse ‘check locally’. Ahhh, what does that mean? My souffle is going to burn! (jk, I don’t know how to make a souffle... could you even burn it?)


Personal first world problems aside, ensuring that we’re recycling the right things is incredibly important if we want to have an efficient, and therefore substantially more green, waste management system. Accidentally binning something that could be recycled has its obvious issues. Mainly, particularly in the case of plastic, metal or other non-biodegradable materials, that they will end up in landfill sites polluting the area for hundreds of years to come. However, sending items off to be recycled that cannot be, sometimes called ‘wishcycling’, can also have an impact. There’s more information about this impact in the video that accompanies this week’s post.


So, what are we going to do about it? It's a pretty simple tip. Head over to your local council/ authority's website and print off a copy of your recycling rules. You can then keep this somewhere in your kitchen or even hang it up near or on your bin so the next time you have questionable item you can check this document. Some areas also have other ways for you to check what goes in which bin. For example my local area has its own app where you can look up a specific item and find out how they want you to properly dispose of it.


Hopefully this should make it easier for you to correctly sort your rubbish and be a better recycler.

Impact:

Reduce your incorrectly recycled waste

References

Video:
http://mediaroom.wm.com/the-dangers-of-wishcycling/

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Week

Nine

22/02/2021

A Simple Swtich

Switch your energy supply to 100% renewables

This is likely one of the most impactful changes we’ll make in terms of our emissions. Initially, I thought that this might also be one of the more difficult challenges but after researching it I’ve been surprised to find it’s actually kind of difficult to find a supplier that doesn’t sell a 100% renewable energy product. However, these claims can be a little misleading.


One thing we have to be a little careful of when switching our supplier is of companies who market their energy supply as ‘green’ without actually sourcing all their electricity through renewables. So, it’s important to check that the electricity is 100% renewable. One way in which regulators have tried to stop this is with REGOs or ‘renewable energy guarantees of origin certificates’. In theory, this is how the energy supplier can prove that they bought the energy they’re sending through to your TV from entirely renewable sources. However, there’s a bit of what many would call ‘greenwashing’ going on in the market. Companies can buy these certificates separately from the energy and therefore pass off their not-so-green energy as 100% renewables. It’s not even illegal, but the industry regulator has announced that this is something they’re planning to investigate. It makes the market a bit of a minefield to be perfectly honest and it’s clearly very confusing.


The best resource I’ve been able to find on the matter is this Which? article that explains how each of the energy providers they looked at gets their energy. Pick a provider with either a green leaf or a flower next to their name and a 100% renewable energy mix. The article is a little outdated and after further research, I’ve found that some of the providers are no longer trading, but sticking to recognised green energy names like Ecotricity, Good Energy and Octopus Energy is the most solid bet.


If you’re in need of gas too, some suppliers will bundle these together and offset your gas emissions. There’s a whole messy debate about offsets that I’m sure we’ll talk about at some point, but for now, unless you have the means to go gas-free, this is the best alternative. Again, it’s not even that much more expensive. On a quote from Octopus Energy, they estimate it would cost 52p a month more for the gas offset version, or about two fredos (insert obligatory aren’t Fredos so expensive nowadays joke).


As always, if you’ve got any questions about this week’s challenge please feel free to get in touch and I’ll see what advice I can muster!

Impact:

1.5 tonnes CO2 eq per household

How is this calculated?

Green Energy Suppliers - Simply Switch - https://www.simplyswitch.com/energy/guides/green-energy-suppliers/#:~:text=And%20the%20reasons%20you%20should%20switch%20to%20green,and%20driving%20less%20%E2%80%93%20to%20reduce%20your%20

References

Video:
http://mediaroom.wm.com/the-dangers-of-wishcycling/

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Week

Ten

01/03/2021

Women's Day Part One

Give to an international women's charity

In exactly one week's time, it will be international women's day. As it turns out, I’m not the best authority on writing about women’s issues in day-to-day life given my gender. So, I’ve got something planned for next week that will cover this and I’m very excited to share it with you. For our first week, I thought we could look at what the data (something I do know a bit more about) shows us about how climate change impacts women specifically and how they are clearly a key part of the changes that need to be made if we’re going to avoid a climate crisis.

It’s a sad truth of climate change that those who will likely be worst affected are also those with the least power to do anything about it. Specifically, the world’s poor, and around the world women are disproportionately more likely to fall into that category.

In order to get to a place where the entire world can run on a low/ zero-emissions economy, it’s vital that these low-income countries develop, and the more quickly that happens that the fewer emissions will be produced in the process. Inevitably, empowering women is one of the best routes to swift development. There are further reasons for this in the video alongside this week’s challenge.

So, let talk about the actual challenge, to donate to an international women’s charity. Firstly, how much should you give? That’s completely up to you. Everyone’s got different amounts of money so just give what you can. Secondly, where should I send my money? Generally, anything that supports international women’s rights or equality, access to contraceptives or access to equal education are good choices. Here are a couple that I’ve found but feel free to choose one that you know more about and who’s mission you want to support.

Action Aid - An international charity focusing on women’s rights. Particularly in the rights of women and girls living in poverty.

Pathfinder - As I talk about in this week’s video, contraception is a hugely important issue in the developing world. As Melinda Gates says, contraceptives are one of the “greatest anti-poverty innovations in history”. Pathfinder supports women in low-income countries to get access to these potentially life-saving contraceptives.

As always, if there are any questions about where to send your donation or what the data says about women and climate change, please feel free to get in touch.

Impact:

An imesurable impact on someone's life and a little bit to help the planet.

References

Video:
[1] Joanne Lu (Feb, 2018), UN Dispatch, https://www.undispatch.com/un-just-released-comprehensive-report-gender-equality-around-world/
[2] WOMEN AND GIRLS: A POSITIVE FORCE FOR CLIMATE ACTION, Climate Council (Mar, 2019), https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/women-and-girls-a-positive-force-for-climate-action/

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Week

Eleven

08/03/2021

Women's Day Part Two

Learn about environmentally friendly menstrual products

This post was written by Abi (@adeaki22), who very kindly responded to my plea for help in writing this week’s challenge. For obvious reasons, my knowledge of this area is embarrassingly low so it’s been invaluable to have her help. Huge thank you to Abi!

If you have any questions about the products please get in touch with Abi on Instagram. She’ll have much better answers than I ever could.

If you’re someone who doesn’t use menstrual products, which I realise has got to be somewhere around 50% of the people reading this, then think about making another donation to one of the charities mentioned last week or pick up some of the suggested single-use items below and donate them to your local food bank. They’re almost always in need of this kind of item.

Without further adieu, over to Abi:

Firstly: a big thanks to Adam for amplifying women’s voices for International Women’s Day! I’m really enjoying the weekly challenges, so jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

Something I feel really needs to be talked about is…period products. Research shows people who menstruate use between 11,000-16,000 tampons and pads in their lifetime. It is estimated that 4.3 billion disposable menstrual products are used every year in the UK and when you consider a box of average tampons contains almost as much plastic as five carrier bags...well...that’s a lot of plastic waste! But do not fear... year on year the plethora of more environmentally-sound period products grows. Below I explore the different options available, my personal experience of (some of) them, where to buy them and the pros and cons of each.

Menstrual Cup
Number one on the list, and my personal favourite, is the re-useable menstrual cup. Now, if I’m being honest... the first time I saw one of these, I was horrified. An advert for the Mooncup was plastered on the back of a university toilet stall door and, upon seeing it, I grimaced at the thought of getting so up, close and personal with my period. Seven years later, I can’t stop recommending this little beauty! I ended up buying my menstrual cup from the Mooncup brand, but nowadays many companies are jumping on the bandwagon and offering their own version (see below). Despite some variations in shape, size and colour, most menstrual cups are small, foldable, re-useable devices made from silicone, rubber or plastic that collects (rather than absorbs) menstrual blood when inserted into the vagina. Most brands offer different sizes and will offer advice on which will be suitable for you. The cup is inserted in the same way a tampon would be (again, brands offer advice on how best to insert), although it sits much lower. The cup can be removed, emptied, rinsed and reinserted every four-eight hours and can safely be used while swimming.

Con: initial cost, can be fiddly and may take a while to get used to, emptying it in public toilets is not an easy experience...

Pro: saves money in the long run, lasts a long time, more environmentally friendly, you may not need to change as often as single use products (depending on your flow), gentler on the body than traditional tampons.

Some of the menstrual cups available:
Mooncup - also available in some drug stores/health food shops e.g. Holland & Barret - £21.99
Boot’s own brand Menstrual Cup - £17.00
TOTM Menstrual Cup - also available at Superdrug - £14.00


Re-useable pads
The name doesn’t leave much to the imagination on this one! Think of your regular sanitary towel...but made of soft, absorbent cloth, with poppers to attach to your underwear. These pads are normally made from bamboo or cotton. Just like regular plastic disposable pads, there are a variety of shapes and sizes to choose from, including wings/no wings. If purchasing these, be sure to get a wet bag to go alongside (many brands include this) as you will use this to store and rinse your used pads, before putting them into your laundry to be washed. I personally haven’t used these, but people who have, say they have better absorbency than disposable pads, they don’t need to be changed as regularly and they have good odour control (not to mention are considerably kinder to the planet!)

Con: initial cost, when out and about you may need to carry used pads in the wet bag, can feel bulky to some, can’t be used when swimming.

Pro: saves money in the long run, more environmentally friendly, closely replicates “normal” pads, healthier for your body than typical bleached, plastic based pads.

Re-useable pads can be bought in various places. There are many branded ones (see examples below) but you can also find many small businesses making them by hand (check out Etsy.co.uk or similar).
Bloom and Nora – sell a range, including a ‘trial pack’ for £30. Some Bloom and Nora products are stocked in health food stores such as Holland and Barret.
Cheeky Wipes – sell individual pads at around £3.30 each and in a range of fun designs. They also do special offers for bulk buys.

Period Underwear
I used to think ‘period pants’ were just the ugly, old pants you wore on your period so your fancy ones didn’t get ruined... not anymore! Period underwear is now a strong contender in the eco-period game. Period underwear looks like regular underwear...but they’re super absorbent and are designed to replace traditional period products such as pads and tampons. As long as you match the right absorbency to your flow, this underwear is designed to last... with brands such as Thinx claiming their underwear holds up to five regular tampons’ worth of blood, without feeling bulky, and other brands, such as REVOL, recommending you wear one pair in the day and one at night and simply rinse before you’re able to wash them. I’m yet to try period underwear myself, but have read lots of great things. Kenny Ethan Jones, well known for being the first trans man to front a period campaign (IM ON), has highlighted the benefits of using period underwear as a trans man and has promoted period underwear from REVOL due to their gender inclusivity and size range (2XS-8XL). Many brands are now stocking boxer brief styles, with trans men and non-binary people in mind, therefore the benefits of this product go beyond their lesser environmental impact!

Cons: they are expensive, they require rinsing/hanging to dry if unable to wash them immediately, can’t be worn while swimming

Pros: saves money in the long term, more environmentally friendly, no additional products to be used (just wear the pants!), can feel more comfortable for trans and non-binary menstruators.

There are a range of period underwear brands and products available, but I am choosing to recommended two brands that are more inclusive.
REVOL – a Canadian company that does ship to the UK (flat rate of $25 CAN). Despite the distance, I am including due to the boxer brief style available (called ‘The Charlie’, $49.00) and their size range of 2XS-8XL.
Thinx – a UK based company for “people with periods” that stocks a boxer brief style (called ‘Boyshorts’, £28.81 GBP) in sizes 2XS-3XL.
Both brands stock a wide range of styles and fits.


Plastic-free, single use products
If, after reading all of this, you’re still thinking...gross... I cannot handle re-useable products... That’s okay: you’re not alone! Thankfully, there are still some swaps you can make to lessen the environmental impact of your period. Traditional period products often come in plastic packaging and wrappers, many tampons have plastic applicators, and the products themselves contain plastic fibres. By making the choice to use plastic-free, single use products you’re choosing to cut this plastic from your period waste. Brands such as Natracare produce a range of period products similar to the regular products you know and love, from renewable, biodegradable and compostable materials... much better for the planet and your body!

Cons: still produces waste, long-term cost remains high

Pros: drastically minimises plastic waste, no initially high cost, convenient, similar to known products, gentler on the skin

Two example brands:
Natracare – stocks a range of organic and sustainable pads, tampons and wipes, as well as maternity and incontinence products. Available in some health food shops, independent pharmacies and Waitrose stores. You can also order online from Ocado, Ethical Superstore and Abel&Cole.
TOTM – stocks a range of organic and sustainable pads and tampons. Can be ordered online (subscription available) and purchased in some Superdrug stores.

.....

Phew... so there we have it. I hope this has been a helpful (if slightly long...) introduction to environmentally friendly period products. I know when I first started looking into it, I felt completely overwhelmed by the range of products out there. But, like anything, swaps and changes become much easier with time. It may take you a few cycles to get used to your new products, but trust me... your body and the planet will thank you in the long run. Please feel free to get in contact with me if you want to chat about any of the products listed, or want to share a product with me that I haven’t included! Take care, Abi

Please note: if you need help getting period products, please contact your local food bank to see if they can support you (and please don’t worry if these are not plastic free, that is not your fault!) Likewise, if you are financially able to donate period products to your local food bank, please consider doing so. Go to https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/emergency-food/non-food-items/ for more information.

Impact:

35% reduction in GHG emissions from menstrual products if switched from regular to plastic-free.

References

Video:
[1] ENVIRONMENSTRUAL FACT SHEET, Women’s Environmental Network, (Retrieved Mar, 2021), https://www.wen.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Fact-Sheet-Environmenstrual.pdf
[2] The Environmental Impact of Menstrual Products, Leigh Matthews (July, 2020), https://www.leafscore.com/eco-friendly-bath-products/environmental-impact-of-menstrual-products/

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Week

Twelve

15/03/2021

Fend Off Vampire Energy

Unplug or switch off your electronic devices when they’re not in use

Another nice and easy one for us this week. Whether it’s a TV, microwave, desktop computer or even a phone charger, almost all electronics draw what is termed ‘Vampire Power’ while not in use. Obviously, as with virtually all energy, this causes greenhouse gas emissions.

The simple solution is just to try and unplug your devices while they’re not being used - which is probably a lot of the time. How much harder would you life really be if you had to flick the switch next to your microwave before you turned it on? Or your toaster? Or your TV?

There’ll definitely be some trial and error in this challenge. Some appliances are designed to stay on permanently and will therefore reset when switched off completely and you might need to reconfigure them when they’re turned back on. Just test a few items out and see how much more effort is required to turn them back on. The most important items to focus on are likely the largest and oldest electrical appliances as these will draw the most electricity in idle mode. Devices bought before 2013 are of particular focus as this was before UK legislation put a limit on the amount of power a device could use while idle.

There are also those devices that need to be on 24/7 for them to work (e.g. fridges and freezers) and be careful to not switch off your TV or set top box while someone’s recording something!

As I’ve said in other weeks, it’s important to reduce our electricity consumption even if you’re already on a 100% renewable energy tariff. The less we use means there’s more supply available to be sold to other customers who might have used fossil fuels instead.

Check out the video to see how much energy it’s estimated that this action could save. As always, get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions.

Impact:

12.5kg of CO2eq a year from a TV alone

References

Video:
[1] 4 Ways to Slay Energy Vampires This Halloween, Energy.gov, Paul Lester (October, 2015), https://www.energy.gov/articles/4-ways-slay-energy-vampires-halloween
[2] Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use, NRDC (May, 2015), https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/home-idle-load-IP.pdf
[3] Media nations: UK 2019, Ofcom (August, 2019), https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/160714/media-nations-2019-uk-report.pdf
[4] How much energy could be saved by making small changes to everyday household behaviours?, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Jason Palmer, Nicola Terry, Peter Pope (November 2012), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/128720/6923-how-much-energy-could-be-saved-by-making-small-cha.pdf
[5] Break the Standby Habit, Uswitch (Retrived March 2021), https://www.uswitch.com/energy-saving/guides/standby-savers/

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Week

Thirteen

22/03/2021

An Oldie But A Goodie

Mark International Day of Forests by helping to grow one

When coming up with these challenges I’ve come across plenty of cliche choices. However, they’re cliche for a reason; they’re impactful. Despite their constant mention, they’re also steps that I don’t think the majority of us have ever taken. That’s certainly true of this week’s challenge; to plant a tree (or as many as you like).

March the 21st marked the UN’s International Day of Forests and aside from being our planet’s respiratory system and an important habitat for countless species, they’re also one of my personal favourite places to be. It’s perhaps a symptom of my over-familiarity with the country or the places within it that I’ve lived, but I tend to feel that the English countryside is mostly spoiled by our human footprint. Whether it’s housing, industrial units or even farmland it’s precious to find an area where nature seems to be king. The sad reality is that these areas come to an end, but with this week’s challenge we could help to make them a bit bigger.

So now that I’ve unnecessarily sold you on forests, let’s maks some more. Choose from one of the suggested projects below (or pick your own if you like) and plant as many trees as you see fit! If you want to take a more hands-on approach and have the land to do so, plant your own tree. You won’t hear me complaining.

One Tree Planted - want to choose where your tree gets planted? Select a country from any continent (minus Antarctica obvs) to put down your roots in. Price per tree - $1!

The National Trust - Looking for something a little closer to home? The National Trust will plant a sapling on one of their sites as they try to reach their goal of planting 20 million trees by 2030. Price per tree - £5.

Trees for Cities - are you an urban dweller who doesn’t get a chance to see too much green? Trees for Cities focus their activities on urban woodland. Price per tree - £6.

It’s important to remember, as with most of our challenges, that this doesn’t solve all our problems. We can’t just plant enough trees to sweep our guilt under the proverbial rug, but committing to actions such as this in tandem with our impact-reducing challenges can help us in the right direction.

You probably know how important trees are to both humans and the world but check out the video alongside this post for more details.

As always, please get in touch at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk or via social media if you’ve got any questions.

Impact:

Between 0.5 and 1 tonne of CO2 sequestered over the tree's lifetime. Plus loads more benifits.

References

Video:
[1] How much CO2 does a tree absorb?, Viessmann (Retrieved: March 2021), https://www.viessmann.co.uk/heating-advice/how-much-co2-does-tree-absorb
[2] World Wildlife Fund - Forest Habitat, World Wildlife Fund, (Retrieved: March 2021), https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/forest-habitat
[3] Forest Transpiration and the Water Cycle, ToughtCo, (Retrieved: March 2021), https://www.thoughtco.com/forest-transpiration-water-cycle-4117845

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Week

Fourteen

29/03/2021

Save The EGGvironment (I'm Sorry)

Try and pick out the least environmentally impactful Easter egg available

It’s that time of year again where seemingly half of the entire supermarket is stocked with Easter eggs and you’ll start hiding the little chocolatey balls around your home, only to find them melted and gooey six months later. Unfortunately, like most things that have been hyper-commercialised, there’s an environmental impact to take into account. So, in the run-up to the chocolate gorging weekend, keep these tips in mind when you’re hunting for the least environmentally impactful Easter egg on the shelves.

Something you’ve likely noticed about Easter eggs is the amount of packaging they are housed in. An ever-escalating, eye-catching arms race between the major chocolate brands has meant boxes have gotten bigger and the volume of plastic used has soared. So it’s important not to get drawn in by bigger boxes and lavish decorations because, after all, that’ll all just end up in the bin as it’s the brown stuff that you really want. Not only is this good for the planet but it’s also good for your pocket. Sometimes you can pay a fair amount more for a more luxury Easter egg but you’re really getting about 10g more chocolate and 100g more packaging.

One ingredient in Easter eggs, as well as a lot of other confectionaries, has become more and more infamous over the past couple of years. Palm oil. 73% of this year’s best-selling Easter eggs contain the controversial stuff [1], and while many producers claim their palm oil now comes from sustainable farms like many things it’s a much murkier picture than they’d have you believe. So, it’s probably best to steer clear of it entirely if you can by just checking it’s not listed as an ingredient on the back of the box.

Finally, if you’re not currently vegan and are feeling adventurous you can keep your eye out for entirely plant-based Easter eggs. When it comes to the actual chocolatey spheroid the biggest contributor to its environmental footprint is the milk needed to make the milk chocolate. Dark chocolate obviously has far less milk in than, well, milk chocolate so that’s an option too, but you could also have a hunt around your supermarkets (probably extensive) Easter egg selection or in their (probably far less extensive) free from section a pick up an entirely plant-based treat.

If you want to see some more information about this year’s most popular Easter eggs and their estimated environmental footprint check out this interesting piece from Uswitch. Admittedly, I’d argue there are some questionable decisions in here (like the fact that they calculate plant-based and dairy-based chocolate’s carbon footprint using the same CO2e per KG figure when in reality one is much better) but it’s a good read if you’re looking to find the optimal environmental impact at your price point. It’s also got information about which eggs contain palm oil and what percentage of the packaging surrounding the egg is recyclable.

As always, give me a shout via social media or at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk if you’ve got any questions or comments about this week’s task.

References


[1] Eco-Eggs Report: the most sustainable Easter eggs revealed in new study, Uswitch (March 2021), https://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/eco-eggs-report/

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Week

Fifteen

05/04/2021

Five Minute Shower Challenge

Try to time your showers and make sure you’re out at the 5-minute mark

You might not think about it very often but the infrastructure of actually getting water to our houses for all our needs has a surprising impact. Pumping water to homes and heating it accounts for 6% of all the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions [1].

One big area for water usage is our hygiene routines. We’ve probably all heard that we should be taking showers instead of baths, but actually, if you’re taking long showers you might be using just as much water. A 2011 study recorded that the average shower time was around 8 minutes and used an estimated 62 litres of hot water [2]. Compared to the average bath using around 80 litres we can see that a slightly longer than average shower could well be worse for the environment.

If we were to limit our showers to just five minutes we’d only use around 39 litres of water, saving around 23 litres or around one-third. So this week, try timing your showers and see what your average is. Then start setting a timer for 5 minutes and get out when it goes off.

Give me a shout on social media or via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk if you’ve got any questions about this week’s challenge.

Impact:

Save 23 litres of hot water and it's associated emissions per shower

References


[1] People's showering habits revealed in survey, BBC News (November 2011), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15836433
[2] The hidden impact of your daily water use, BBC (Retrieved April 2021), https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-the-hidden-impact-of-your-daily-water-use

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Week

Sixteen

12/04/2021

Planet-Friendly Wake-Up Juice

Make sure your coffee is environmentally-friendly

I’m writing this week’s post having just done a long drive and feeling in need of a power nap. Like most of us, the obvious solution was to reach for a warm cup of caffeine. Being a fake Brit, I don’t drink tea but love coffee, and this got me thinking about coffee’s environmental impact.

Obviously, coffee doesn’t grow near where I live so there’s got to be some transport emissions involved. However, it’s also one of the crops that contributes the most to rainforest and habitat destruction in the countries it’s produced in. That’s because, while naturally coffee plants would grow in diverse, busy ecosystems across the equator and southern hemisphere, as always, humans have discovered a way to industrialise the plant. Here are a couple of things to look out for when buying your coffee to make sure you’re making the smallest impact possible.

Rainforest Alliance Certification
The alliance not only tackles environmental issues but also supports farmers and works to protect their human rights. On the climate specifically, they help train and support producers in cultivating their crops in more sustainable ways. These methods include incorporating ground cover and shade trees (something we’ll get onto in a moment). In Nicaragua, they claim that their certified producers’ farms are able to sequester nearly double the amount of carbon than their competing un-certified farms.

Shadegrown
As alluded to above, one of the best ways to produce coffee in a more sustainable environment is to grow the plants in their natural habitat. Allowing so-called ‘shade trees’ to grow amongst the crops not only allows the farm to absorb more carbon but also gives wildlife a chance to thrive in a more diverse environment. As far as I know, there’s not a certification for shade grown so this one does require a little trust in the coffee brand you’re buying from.

Bonus badge: Fairtrade
Although their coffee projects are focussed a little more on the human side of production than the environmental side, by buying fairtrade coffee, as well as other products, you’re ensuring that the producers get their fair share. This is important when it comes to sustainability as being able to afford to switch to more sustainable methods is an obvious barrier for entry in many countries.

So there you have it, three things to look out for when you’re looking for your next caffeine hit. I’m always up for trying a new blend so give me a shout on social media if you manage to find a bag that hits all of the above.

P.s. I can’t mention coffee without suggesting replacing your dairy milk with oat milk. Honestly, I can’t even tell the difference anymore so I’d urge you to at least give it a whirl.

Impact:

Supporting coffee producers and reducing your cup's impact

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Week

Seventeen

19/04/2021

Earth Day 2021

Celebrate Earth Day this Thursday

In case you didn’t know, this Thursday is Earth Day and in case you don’t know what that is, Earth Day is what it says on the tin; a day all about the Earth and looking after it. It’s a pretty open idea so you can mark it in a whole load of ways. From a fundraiser for your favourite eco-charity to just living a particularly Earth-friendly day.


As we like all things Earth-friendly, this week’s challenge is to mark Earth day in whatever way you wish. You could cook a low-carbon and/or zero waste meal, go on a litter picking walk in your area or really anything that goes the extra mile from your usual to look after the Earth.


It’s possible to also find an organised event over on the campaign’s website but I’ve found that they’re a bit sparse over here in the UK. That being said, many of these have at least some online element so you can use that as an opportunity to attend an event a little further away.


Finally, It’s also worth keeping your eye on the news as this year US President Biden is hosting a virtual climate summit with 40 world leaders. There’s already been talk of how committed China and the US are to working together to rapidly solve climate change but these events have a nasty habit of not achieving much. Hopefully, it will be an important step in the build-up to this November’s COP26.


Give me a shout on social media or via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk if you’ve got any other questions.

Impact:

Depends how you choose to mark it but hopefully also spreading the word.

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Week

Eighteen

26/04/2021

Scout out your nearest zero waste shop

Celebrate the reopening of retail with a zero-waste exploration

As the pandemic is beginning to recede and restrictions are being lifted (at least here in the UK) we’ve all got more of a chance for some retail therapy to deal with the events of the last 14 months. However, our over-consumption and ties between acquiring goods and happiness (see: ‘retail therapy’ in the previous sentence) are undeniably playing a role in our environmental destruction. So if you’re looking to support a local business, perhaps try and funnel some of your spending money towards an environmentally conscious one.


You’ve probably heard of them by now, but perhaps you haven’t given them a chance yet. Zero-waste shops, also called refill shops, are stores designed to minimise or eliminate waste where possible. Bring your own Tupperware or other storage method and fill up on grains, nuts, pasta, spices and even some out there options like goji berries or cacao nibs. Some of the shops also have sections with regular household items like sponges or soaps minus the packaging.


There are a couple of websites that aim to map out every single zero-waste or planet-friendly shop but, probably down the speed they’re popping up, I find that they’re often lacking shops that I know are definitely there. Neither of the zero-waste outlets I visit are listed on any map I can find. So, your best bet is to just quickly search “your town zero-waste shop”. You’re unlikely to find one in a rural village but, from my experience, most places with a larger supermarket often also have zero-waste shops.


This week’s challenge is a bit of a longer term one. Although it’s great if you go and visit once, ideally, we’d all be using them much more. Go and check one out, see what they have to offer and then, if you can, work that into your shopping habit. The beauty is that most items sold in these places have a long shelf life and so if you can’t go every week then you can stock up on more volume less regularly.


Feel free to reach out if you’ve got any questions about this week’s challenge via social media or over email at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

Impact:

Reduce your use of single use packaging and support a local business

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Week

Nineteen

03/05/2021

Vote Like The Planet Depends On It

Take yourself down to your nearest polling station and vote!

A nice and quick, simple challenge this week. It should only take a short time to complete but the decision might take a little longer.

This Thursday hosts the UK's postponed local elections from 2020 including the Police Crime Commissioner vote. Also bundled in are the London Mayoral Elections, the Welsh Senedd Elections and the Scottish Parliamentary Elections. So, some areas of the UK have a few different choices to make.

While I would never want to suggest who you vote for, not least because you likely live in a different local election area, have different challenges and different priorities, I think it’s worth thinking about the candidates environmental credentials. Admittedly, getting enough information on each candidate's views on an issue can be tricky, particularly at the local level. Hopefully, you will have received something through your letterbox about your voting options and what each candidate stands for. You could also try and get in touch with your candidates to ask them any questions you might have about their aims if they were to be elected.

At the end of the day, the important thing is that people actually get out and vote. According to the BBC, the UK average for the 2018 elections was just 35% with some areas as low as 24% - and that’s only registered voters. So, no matter who you’re going to vote for, get and do some democracy, but also try to keep the planet in mind when you do!

If you’re not sure who’s standing, where to vote or what you’re even voting for I’ve found “Where Do I Vote” a good resource.

Give me a message or email if you have any questions about this week’s challenge.

Impact:

Difficult to measure but equally as important

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Week

Twenty

10/05/2021

Non-dairy Audition

Test out some of the increasingly available dairy alternatives

Ice cream, cappuccinos, Greek yoghurt, Cheddar, Brie, classic British tea, Red Leicester, milkshakes, chocolate and the countless products that inexplicably contain ‘milk powder’ (whatever that is). As a nation, and more broadly a continent, we’re entwined in a centuries-long love affair with dairy. Estimates vary from around 7,000 to just 3,000 years ago that people started regularly consuming milk in Europe. So, in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually a more recent infatuation, but it’s nonetheless consuming.

Despite numbers of dairy cows in the UK falling in the 20 years from 1998, by over half a million [1], overall production and consumption has increased [2]. There are of course other dairy animals but these make up a minuscule proportion of production and consumption here in the UK.

Personally, I’ve never been a big consumer of liquid milk but cheese, yoghurt and, of course, ice cream have always been high on my lists of favourite foods. The idea here isn’t to completely cut out dairy in one fell swoop (although you can if you’d like), but rather to try out non-dairy alternatives and see where they don’t really make a difference or the difference is so small that you’re happy to swap them out.

With almond, oat, soy, rice, hemp, coconut and more liquid milks to choose from, which should we be buying if we want the lowest environmental impact? To avoid going into too much detail I’ll focus on almond, oat and soy as these are the most popular alternatives in the UK.

Most simply, all three of these massively reduce the emissions footprint of your glass of milk. Dairy is estimated to produce 3.2kg of CO2eq per litre compared to almond on 0.7kg, oat on 0.9kg and soy on 1kg per litre [3]. So, we should all be drinking almond, right?

Unfortunately, greenhouse gas emissions aren’t all we have to worry about. Cow’s milk needs an average of 628 litres of water per litre of milk and almond comes in a bit over half this amount at 371 litres. That’s a big reduction. However, compared to oat and soy it seems less impressive, they require just 48 and 28 litres per litre respectively.

Additionally, as with everything, we need to think about where these crops are coming from. About 80% of all almonds are grown in California and a significant amount of soy is imported from the Americas too (although it is possible to get European grown soy).

So there are clearly pros and cons to each of the options. Ultimately, they’re all significantly better for the environment than dairy. As always, try to check the packaging to see where the crops are coming from as this might give you some clues as to whether deforestation might have freed up the land in which they were grown, this is the same for dairy and meat products.

The final point that I wanted to tackle in this post was the health benefits or compromises we get/ make by choosing a non-dairy alternative. This only really concerns us if we’re going to cut out dairy completely. It’s not worth factoring in the macronutrients in the splash of milk in a tea of coffee a few times a day.

According to the NHS, “[Non-dairy milks] contain the same vitamins and minerals as standard dairy products” [4]. However, there’s also a warning that, “If you're not able to, or choose not to, eat dairy products, you may not be getting enough calcium in your diet.” [4] This point is particularly important for children as, as the old yoghurt adverts used to say, it makes your bones grow stronger(er). The good news is that there are other ways to get calcium in your diet. Some soy milks have calcium added directly into them or you could up the amount of leafy green vegetables like spinach or curly kale in your diet [5]. Again, these health judgements only really need to come at the point where you're switching a majority of your dairy products out for plant-based alternatives.

In my experience, liquid milks have been the easiest transition to make, closely followed by butters (both solid and spreadable) and soy yoghurts. The one product holding back the entire non-dairy market is cheese. Notoriously difficult to make and with each type having a distinct flavour, there’s a way to go before I’d have enough options for a vegan cheeseboard. That being said, if you just want some grated cheese on a meal or it’s hidden in the ingredients of a dish it’s absolutely comparable (also a big shout out to homemade vegan parmesan - 10/10).

So there you have it. A low down on the dairy-free alternatives that will help to shrink your environmental impact. If you have any questions or manage to find an incredible non-dairy product, let me know on social media or via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

Impact:

2.5 - 2.8kg CO2eq saving per litre of liquid dairy switched to plant-based alternatives

References


[1] UK Dairy Industry Statistics, Elise Uberoi, House of Commons Library, (May 2020), pg. 4, https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN02721/SN02721.pdf
[2] Ibid, pg. 6
[3] Which milk alternative should we be drinking?, Kelly Oakes, BBC, (Feb 2020 - retrieved May 2021), https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200207-which-milk-alternative-should-we-be-drinking
[4] Dairy and alternatives in your diet, NHS, (Retrieved May 2021), https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/milk-and-dairy-nutrition/
[5] Vitamins and minerals - Calcium, NHS, (Retrieved May 2021), https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/calcium/

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Week Twenty

One

17/05/2021

Wash Your Hands Of Plastic Waste

Try some plastic-free soapy alternatives

Given that we ventured out to discover our nearest zero-waste shop just a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I’d take this week to challenge us to keep using them in a specific way.

According to a study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of RÉDUIT, the average British household uses somewhere around 96 bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and hand soap combined every year. Luckily, there are a few ways you could try to cut down on this number.

General disclaimer: I have the most boring, easy hair in the world so what I say works for me might not work for you if you need something a little more specific for the type of hair you have.

Refills
Firstly, now that we know where our nearest zero-waste shop is (and if it’s close enough), we can head there and they’ll more than likely be able to refill our empty bottles of product. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the range can be somewhat limited so if their shampoo etc. doesn’t do it for you then you might have to find a different shop entirely to try a different one.

Bulk Buy
Your next option, if you want to find a bit more range, is to bulk buy 5-10 litre bottles online and store them at home to refill your bottles yourselves. There are obviously some downsides to this; you need the storage space, it’s more pricey upfront (although likely works out cheaper in the long run) and it doesn't completely exclude plastic waste as those big containers will still need to be binned eventually.

That being said, these bottles are the ones that are used in the no-packaging shop you would have been going to anyway so the waste isn’t that much, if any, more and you can select your choice of types of product (e.g. sensitive, moisturising, etc.) and fragrances (some of the options at my nearest shop are lavender and I’m not okay with that).

Bars
If you want to try to cut plastic out of the equation entirely then you could give bar products a go. In the UK LUSH has popularised these items but they can now be found in various different beauty/ hair care stores and quite possibly in your local zero-waste shop as well as your supermarket or highstreet chains. Again, bar options will widen your options in terms of type and fragrance and I honestly think they work just as well as liquid options.

So, test out some plastic reduced shampoo, conditioner, shower gel or hand soap until you find one that you love and can keep using to save a fair bit of plastic waste.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or queries about this week’s challenge. Either give me an email via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk or send me a message on social media.

Impact:

96 plastic bottles a year per household

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Week Twenty

Two

24/05/2021

Battle on Toilet Plastics

Switch to plastic free toilet roll for a cleaner wipe!

A nice and simple one for us all this week. There are increasing opportunities for us to swap out or regular, plastic wrapped toilet roll for more sustainable options.


Several supermarket chains in the UK now sell their own brand of ‘bio-plastic’ wrapped toilet rolls. There’s some debate as to whether these are that much better for the environment because the term ‘bio-plastic’ isn’t properly regulated so it’s tough to know exactly what this means (technically all plastic breaks down eventually, it might just take 1,000 years to do so).


What I would class as the better solution, and what I currently do, is to bulk buy either paper wrapped or unwrapped options from the internet. If you’ve spent much time researching sustainable products you may well have been confronted with ads for ‘Who Gives A Crap’, a company stylishly wrapping their loo rolls in individual paper wrapping. Not only is this better than the usual plastic wrapping but it also looks pretty cool in your bathroom. However, if you’re a little more price conscious you might want to steer clear of these and you could certainly question whether it’s really necessary to wrap each and every roll individually.


For unwrapped toilet rolls you can either take a look in any online ethical store (like Ecoleaf or boobalou) but my favourite is Novatissue, a UK based, family run business selling unwrapped, sustainably sourced toilet paper. They sell on Amazon or eBay and are about the cheapest option that I’ve found out there, especially if you exclude any that are made halfway around the world and then shipped to the UK.


If you think that’s a bit too easy and are looking for a bonus challenge, try and tackle your (probably) plastic toilet brush too. There are a couple of options out there but the plastic free brush from boobalou seems to be the most popular/ recommended. What I’m not saying is throw out your existing brush, because that would just create more waste, but when you next need to buy a new one keep this option in mind.


As always give me a shout on social media or at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk if you have any questions or queries about this week’s challenge.

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Week Twenty

Three

31/05/2021

Little-e earth

Look into starting an at home compost system

According to the BBC the UK throws out 6.6 million tonnes of food waste every year (70% of which comes from our homes). Aside from being a waste of food, what’s the big problem? Won’t it just decompose? It absolutely will, but again, that’s inevitable right? The issue comes from how it decomposses.

Very quickly, we need to understand that methane is much worse than CO2 in terms of global warming. Methane stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time period, and so we have to consider whether we want to look at years, decades or centuries when calculating the scale at which it is worse than CO2. If we look over 20 years the number is something around 72 times more potent than CO2 but at 100 years it drops to 25 times. Whichever way you look at it, it’s worse, tonne for tonne, than CO2 in terms of global warming.

You might already know this from discussions about beef production, famously - or rather infamously - cows release large amounts of methane when they burp and, less-significantly, from the other end. In the UK, while agriculture in general produces the majority the methane emissions, waste is in second place. The issue we can tackle with composting our own food waste is that landfills, due to their lack of air filtration, decompose anaerobically. This process produces more methane than aerobic - with air - decomposition. Guess how compost is made… aerobically.

The amount of the methane reduction is hard to estimate as it depends on your compost sources, what the council would have done with them anyway and a myriad of other factors. One thing that we can attribute to composting, if you then go on to use it, is that it will help your plants grow better and therefore help to sequester CO2 directly.

I’m no expert on composting so here are a couple of resources to get your started on your journey:
Eartheasy
RHS
Gardeners World

I have to admit that I’m cheating quite a bit on this one. My local council actually collects all our food waste and composts it themselves. It’s really no more effort than putting it in the general waste bin and, as they leave both your kitchen and your curbside more regularly, they can help keep that rotting food smell to a minimum. On top of this the council estimates that they can save £100 per lorry load of food waste. Given that they estimate 41% of my town’s general waste is food, this is a pretty significant saving (and I’m all for anything that might help to keep my council tax down). So if you don’t fancy getting your own hands dirty you can try contacting your local council (or whoever deals with your waste collection) and see if they’ve looked into implementing food waste collections.

As always if there are any questions or you have an opinion about composting you’d like to share, my ears are always open either on social media or via hello@climatchallenge.org.uk.

Impact:

Reduced methane emissions and a healthier garden

References


[1] Food Waste: What is it and how does it affect the environment?, BBC (October, 2020), https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/54466096
[2] Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis: 2.10.2 Direct Global Warming Potentials, IPCC, (2007), https://archive.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-10-2.html
[3] Emissions by sector, Our World In Data (Retrieved: June 2021) https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector
[4] Food Waste Collection, Reading Council (Retrieved June 2021), https://www.reading.gov.uk/environment/waste-and-recycling/food-waste-collection/#compost

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Week Twenty

Four

07/06/2021

Will It Ever Be Enough?

Can individual actions really help?

As we near the halfway mark of this year of challenges, I figured that it was time to get a little deeper. Through all the research and articles I’ve read to put these challenges together one question has risen above them all: can individual actions have a significant impact?

Obviously, given the challenges so far, I’m of the opinion that they definitely help. However, it’s becoming increasingly certain that just switching out our products for eco-friendly ones isn’t going to solve our problems on anything like the scale we need.

The argument against promoting individual actions is that they might divert some energy away from the larger issues. This is certainly supported by the fact that many of the largest polluters in the world - the international super-corporations that make our drinks, clothing and provide our energy - seem to promote many of the same “carbon-footprint” cutting ideas that many environmental groups do. The question is, is this because they truly want to work towards a climate change solution, or is it because it’s better for business for the onus of change to be placed on the individual rather than on themselves? In my opinion, history clears that one up pretty neatly.

But, again, in my opinion, people are capable of both. We can make changes in our everyday lives while still pushing for the wider scale changes necessary. On top of this, the more we see eco-friendly products and the more people are seen to be preferring them the more interest those in power are going to take. While the argument for buying our way out of the hole we’re currently in is flawed (as I’m planning to look at in a couple of weeks) the more governments notice their constituents’ concerns around the environment the more likely they are to become policy.

Finally, we should take into account the fact that, on the whole, people in comparatively rich, western countries have contributed far more to the issue than those in less developed nations. Sometimes this doesn’t feel like our choice , we use a car to get to work rather than public transport because lack of infrastructure, pricing or social attitudes rule it out. Similarly, using carbon-free personal transportation is, again, a no-go due to lack of infrastructure or pricing. But, where we can, we should be working to reduce our personal impacts so that there is more space, clear air and drinkable water for everyone, no matter where they happen to live.

So if our lifestyle changes are still going to leave a large environmental issue still firmly on the table, what should we be doing instead? Well, without wanting to spoil future challenges, we can use our voices. We can vote, campaign and protest.

Those aren’t this week’s challenges though. This week’s challenge is to simply come to terms with the fact that, for almost everyone, whatever we do individually is not going to solve climate change. It’s down to the governments and international organisations to make the changes that will stop the worst of it. For me at least, that’s been pretty scary to come to terms with, which is why it needs its own challenge. Realistically, on a personal scale, there isn’t much you or I can do right now, today, with just ourselves that will make a significant dent in the problem. It will take time and groups of people to achieve the change necessary.

More than ever, I’d love to hear what you have to say about the above. Do you agree or disagree? They’re both equally valid points of view and I’d love to hear them. You can reach me either through hello@climatechallenge.org.uk or via social media.

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Week Twenty

Five

14/06/2021

Stop EGGspoliting

Try and go without eggs for a week

You might be getting deja vu. I have indeed made an awful egg pun in one of these challenges before. However, that was for the Easter variety and this week we’re going to look at the more commonly eaten version. Eggs are pretty versatile, you can have them scrambled, poached, boiled, fried, omletted (that feels like it’s not a real word), I’ve even had them in coffee before.

Unfortunately, as much as we might love them, we need to think about the climate and environmental impact of these shell covered protein pockets. In the UK, we consume 13 billion eggs a year, around 197 each [1].

The issues from egg production revolve around the treatment of the chickens and the local environmental impact this can have rather than an emissions impact like we see with beef production. I’ll try to focus on the environmental impacts as much as possible - after all that’s what these challenges are for - but couldn’t write this challenge without touching on the other issues.

On the animal welfare side, chickens are bred to produce many times the eggs they would in the wild and therefore their bodies are exhausted much sooner. This will either lead to them dying “naturally” or them being slaughtered because they’re no longer deemed productive enough.

You likely already know about the conditions in which caged hens are kept but you find that the requirements to call eggs ‘free range’ aren’t what you think. Hundreds or thousands of hens can be crammed into a shed and because they can move around they’re classed ‘free range’. It’s probably true that some farms go beyond the welfare standards but, in order to get the cheapest prices, commercial producers are somewhat restricted by the market as to how much they can spend on improving conditions.

There are probably too many environmental impacts to touch on, from water acidification and eutrophication to harmful ammonia emissions, so I’m just going to expand on two points.

Firstly, let’s look at the greenhouse gas emissions. A study on the UK egg industry found that a dozen eggs produced roughly 2.2kg CO2eq [2]. That’s around 180g per egg or 200g per 100g of protein. That is better than many meats, particularly ruminant meat, but it’s still substantially worse than many plant based sources. Interestingly, most of the emissions come from the animal feed, which, for various complicated reasons, is needed in greater quantities for free range or pastured chickens as compared to battery or caged chickens.

Secondly, we should also think about the risk of keeping this many animals in such a confined space. You probably remember bird flu causing a big scare back in the mid 2000s (a slightly more understandable scare given the last 18 months). Due to the crammed nature of the farms, disease can spread incredibly quickly and can even sometimes jump to humans (although further human to human transmission is then thankfully rare). The sheer number of animals makes it impossible to keep an eye on each one's health and this means disease can go unnoticed and, more cynically, noticed but untreated because each chicken is such a small part of the larger process that it’s not worth it.

What can we use instead? Well, as eggs serve many purposes in our diets, it depends on what you’re trying to get out of them. Protein? There are plenty of plant based sources of protein and are arguably much better for you than eggs (think pulses or lentils). Baking? There are also a range of options to replace the eggs from the baking process. From products sold specifically as egg replacements to by products like aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas), there are egg free replacements for almost all your baking needs.

As always, feel free to get in touch with me on social media or via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk if you have any questions or comments.

Impact:

Around 36kg of CO2eq per year

References


[1] [1] UK Egg Industry Data, egginfo.co.uk (Retrieved June 2021), https://www.egginfo.co.uk/egg-facts-and-figures/industry-information/data
[2] The greenhouse emissions footprint of free-range eggs, R C Taylor, H Omed, G Edwards-Jones, (2013), https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24570444/#:~:text=Greenhouse%20gas%20emissions%20averaged%20a%20global%20warming%20potential,both%20kg%20of%20meat%20and%20kg%20of%20protein%29.

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Week Twenty

Six

21/06/2021

Amazon Prime makes for a less prime Amazon

Opt yourself out of one-day delivery apart from where it’s absolutely necessary

You don’t have to think back far to remember a time before one-day delivery. Or at least a time where it’s cost was so great that you would only use it in truly urgent cases. However, nowadays we’ve come to expect speedy, reliable delivery. Undoubtedly, this has been spurred in no small part due to Amazon Prime and the ability to get basically anything you could need (and let’s be honest there’s also a lot on Amazon that no one has ever needed) delivered to your door the very next day. It’s no longer just Amazon though. Likely drawn to this solution in an ever-accelerating delivery arms race, other online retailers have had to bring in free, cheap, or subscription-based next day delivery options in the never-ending battle for the consumer’s cash.

So does our collective impatience for online goods lead to much of a climate impact? Well, all of those next day delivery offers mean vast amounts more delivery drivers on the road in less full vans and, until they’re green electricity or hydrogen-powered, that means vast amounts more pollution. This doesn’t mean that online shopping is necessarily a no go. A 2013 MIT study found that depending on certain elements such as your location, mode of transport, and, importantly for this challenge, level of patience online shopping could actually be better for the environment than brick-and-mortar shops.

So based on this evidence the challenge splits slightly here depending on where you live and how you get around.

Case One - you live in an urban area where you could get to local shops with either self-powered or public transport. Your best bet to reduce your emissions is to try and pick up everything you can locally. There’s likely to be some things that you can’t get in town so for these just do what everyone else is challenged to do and opt-out of one-day shipping.

Case Two - you live in a suburban or rural area where shops are too far away and public transport isn’t very good (pretty likely if you’re in the UK from my experience), so you’d have to drive to the shops. The best option here is to just simply opt-out of one-day shopping.

Luckily, while being probably the worst offender in this area, Amazon has also got some easy ways you can move away from a rushed shipping approach. You can either simply decide to go for the free ‘no rush’ shipping at checkout or if you’re a Prime member then you can opt to elect an ‘Amazon Day’, arguably quite an arrogant name as if you may no longer utter the word Tuesday for this is the day where Bezos delights us with many gifts. *Since writing this I’ve done transactions on Amazon where neither of the above is an option, so honestly, I have no idea what their strategy is*

Personally, I’ve found that reducing pollution isn’t the only reason to cut down on your one-day delivery. If (and trust me, coming from a tiny village, I know that’s a big if) you live somewhere with local conveniences you can support local businesses as well as get out and about more (hopefully via self-powered transport if that’s possible). Or even if you do end up waiting for a little longer to get your newest indulgence via slower shipping, it can be a surprisingly relaxing change of pace, not always concerned with the immediacy that comes in the digital age.

Let me know how you got on in the challenge and anything you’ve found particularly difficult either by using the survey on this page or getting in touch on social media.

References


[1] Environmental Analysis of US Online Shopping, MIT, Dimitri Weideli (2013), https://ctl.mit.edu/sites/ctl.mit.edu/files/library/public/Dimitri-Weideli-Environmental-Analysis-of-US-Online-Shopping_0.pdf

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Week Twenty

Seven

29/06/2021

Green Your Green

Make sure your savings aren’t working against your footprint shrinking mission

It’s probably not an element of our footprints that we think about often, I certainly didn’t before researching it, but the way we bank and save our money could be one of the most impactful changes we can make.

Disclaimer: I initially tried to write this back in March/April to fit in with tax season but I realised I had no idea what I’m talking about and my financial advice would be garbage. I understand it a little more now but my advice would still be about the same quality. So, rather than telling you exactly what to do with your money, I’m going to link out to some articles I’ve found helpful in making my decisions and let you make your own.

As you almost certainly know, the banks where you keep your hard-earned pennies and pounds invest that money via loans and a bunch of other complicated economics stuff make themselves money. This is why many bank accounts are free (they want to hold your money) and why interest rates exist. The problem is: most banks don’t really care where this investment is going, and what’s one of the most surefire ways to make money in the 21st century? Fossil fuels. Or really most heavily polluting industries. So just by saving your money with a bank with questionable morals, you might be undoing a lot of, or possibly all of, the good work you’ve done so far. One study suggests that just moving your pension could save 117 times the pollution than skipping a yearly return flight.

So, the challenge for the week is to research and begin the process of switching your money to a more environmentally conscious provider. As I’ve already said, obviously I’m not a financial advisor, so take a look at these three articles I’ve found helpful and go from there:

Ethical banking: how to make your money go green - Good Housekeeping

10 simple ways to go green with your money in 2021 - Which

Current Accounts Ethical Banks in the UK - Money Expert

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or queries about this week’s challenge. Either give me an email via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk or send me a message on social media.

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Week Twenty

Eight

05/07/2021

Plastic Free Teeth Cleaning

Reduce the amount of waste plastic in your dental hygiene regime

Twice a day for two minutes. 28 minutes a week. 1,456 minutes a year. If you’re doing it right that is. The pandemic might have cancelled a lot of dentist appointments but our oral hygiene is as important as ever. Unfortunately, for a relatively forgettable part of our lives, taking care of our teeth uses a lot of necessary plastic. This week I’m going to walk through the areas to look out for and what options you have to switch out to less wasteful alternatives.

Obviously, dental care is a personal thing, and if something isn’t working for you absolutely ask your dentist for advice.

Microplastics -
According to the campaign ‘Beat The Microbead’ around half of all the oral care products they checked contained some form of microplastics. The definitions for these are a little blurry but they tend to refer to small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. There’s enough information about these to fill a whole challenge (something I might do further down the line), but the long and short of it is that these plastics end up back in our water or in the food we eat. The studies are not conclusive but there’s growing concern about how much of this type of pollution we’re putting into our ecosystems and eventually into our own bodies.

Many of the big names in toothpaste, Aquafresh, Oral B and Sensodyne to name a few, we’re found to still be using microplastics or materials that are suspected to be microplastics in their products. This is despite many of them ‘voluntarily’ giving them up a number of years ago. There are even laws in the UK about what products microplastics are allowed to be in but they’re seen as too weak and already outdated.

To avoid repeating the information, I’ll link out to Beat The Microbead’s article on the topic where they list some of the ingredients to look out for when next buying toothpaste. Alternatively, later on in the challenge, I’ll cover some completely plastic-free options that you could give a try.

Disposable toothbrushes -
One of the biggest sources of plastic by weight in our oral care routines is disposable toothbrushes. Obviously, a good way of getting around this is to get a electric toothbrush (as your dentist would probably recommend anyway). However, disposable heads raise the same issue. Bamboo toothbrushes cut down massively on the plastic used but it seems to be nearly impossible to replace the bristles. I have read about one company using boar hair instead but that’s certainly not for me and would be an issue for any vegans out there.

The best option I’ve found is to keep using disposable heads for an electric toothbrush but pick a provider who disposes of them responsibly. The company I’ve used (but again there are other options) is LiveCoco. The brush heads work exactly the same you’d expect and once you’ve used them you can freepost them back to the company and they’ll send them off in bulk to be recycled - including the bristles!

Toothpaste -
Aside from the microbead issue, plastic packaging also affects toothpaste. Luckily, there are loads of options to choose from here. From making your own toothpaste powder to toothpaste in a jar plastic doesn’t have to be a byproduct of your twice-daily activity.

My personal favourite option so far has been toothpaste tablets. They come in a tin or glass bottle and normally contain enough to last one or two months. Just chuck one in your mouth and chew it until it becomes the right consistency and brush as you would normally. My recommendation would be to choose the smallest amount to start with as I’ve found that not all brands taste the same (and some taste pretty bad). My pick currently would be those sold by EcoLiving

Everything else -
From mouthwash to floss, there are plenty of extras involved in keeping your teeth clean. For mouthwash, the plastic reduction all comes in the packaging. There are several brands that will send it to you in glass or metal bottles. The only one I’ve tried personally is Geoorganic’s but there are other options out there.

Floss is a little harder. Not only does it normally come in an unrecyclable plastic container but often the floss itself is made from plastics. As you can imagine, having small threads of plastic floating around in our water systems isn’t doing anyone any good. Again, the only product I’ve tried personally are the alternatives from Georganics but there are other options from brands like Dental Lace and Eco-Dent.

As always, if you’ve tried any other products that you’d like to tell me about or have any questions about this week’s challenge, get in touch via social media or hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Twenty

Nine

12/07/2021

Switch Your Search Engine

Move one of your most frequent online activities over to a pro-planet provider

Disclaimer: my day job involves working for a company with a stake in the game. However, I am not going to receive any financial (e.g. bonus) or any other kind of reward by writing this post or even if the whole world switched themselves over. As always, this is just a suggestion.

You probably do it countless times a day. What’s the capital of Serbia? Burrito recipes. Who’s that actor and what else have they been in? Search engines have helped make the vast knowledge base of the internet navigable by regular people. Most of us probably use the same one. It’s name has become synonymous with the act itself. It’s not searching anymore. We Google.

While the internet giant promised to become, and according to them became, carbon neutral back in the late naughties, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better option out there. Enter Ecosia. You might have already seen their ads on sites like YouTube or Facebook (especially if you’ve shown interest in other eco-friendly alternatives).

The long and short of Ecosia’s pitch is this: instead of using the profits from their business (obtained by selling ads on their search pages) to pad their own wallets, they’ll use them to plant trees. Obviously, planting trees is something we want to see more of due to the long list of benefits you’ve probably heard a thousand times by now.

In terms of experience, there’s a little more effort to using Ecosia. It takes a little while to get used to their search results and the features they have on their search pages, but all in all, there’s only a slight difference. There are some added benefits too. Admittedly, it’s not quite at the level of privacy specialists (think DuckDuckGo), but Ecosia has a stated mission to protect their users privacy. As a B Corp (a standard awarded to companies with particularly positive environmental, social or societal impact), they’re also held to a higher standard of honesty, transparency and customer service. All areas the big G has struggled with over the years.

Ideally, this week we’d set our default search engines to Ecosia so that we don’t slip back into our Googley ways. There’s too many devices and web browsers to go through exactly how to do it in all of them here. Just give it a quick search and you should find the answer. Maybe it can be the first thing you Ecosia (not quite as catchy, I know).

Feel free to give me a shout on social media or via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk if you have any questions or comments about this week’s challenge.

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Week

Thirty

19/07/2021

Consume Less

Try to actively think before you buy

It might not gel with what you see in TV ads, billboards and constant, view-blocking webpage ads, but our constant need to consume is probably one of the biggest environmental issues out there.

This isn’t just restricted to the items you might think. For me at least, the biggest challenge in this area comes with snack food. They’re a double whammy. Most don’t provide any real nutritional benefit and their production and that of their packaging create plenty of environmental pollution. The challenges for you might be different and unfortunately, pretty much everything has an environmental footprint. Love a good clothes shop? Kinda addicted to new technology? Even supposedly green products can sometimes, in certain cases, be worse because you just end up consuming more than you needed to.

The challenge is daily. So this is how I try to enact it. Every time I get my card out to pay for something I try to ask myself whether I really need the item. Could I just not buy it? Could it be bought second-hand or from a more sustainable alternative? Obviously, sometimes the answer is still that you need to buy the item, but I’ve found this approach helps to really question why I feel the need to purchase something and often leads to me rethinking entirely.

Let me know what you think of this week’s challenge and get in touch if you have any questions or queries. You can reach me via social media or at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Thirty

One

26/07/2021

Make The Most of Your Supermarket Haul

Try to reduce the amount of food you waste

In the UK, we waste 6.6 million tonnes of food every year. Around 4.5 million of that is edible food (e.g. not tea bags or eggshells). That includes 20 million slices of bread - creating the equivalent emissions of 140,000 cars per year - and 0.9 million bananas every day - wasting 330 billion litres of water each year [1].

Plan your meals
Now depending on who’s reading this, this tip might either sound incredibly obvious or overly organised. According to a French study (the only study I could find on the matter), only 57% of people plan their meals out in advance, and some of those were only doing it ‘rarely’ [2].

This is something that I’ve always done (thanks Mum & Dad), but it’s probably a little more difficult if you don’t know exactly who will be in on what days (for example if you have older children - sorry Mum & Dad). The basic idea is that with this meal plan you can buy exactly what you need from the supermarket and your far less likely to have items that go out of date. You don’t have to necessarily plan what order you eat the meals, but having seven meals to eat before you next go shopping also takes some of the pressure off.

I’d like to tag an extra tip on here - don’t go to the supermarket when you’re hungry - I always end up with way more food than I need.

Use your cuttings
We waste a huge amount of food just by trimming out vegetables. The ends of onions, leafy parts of cauliflowers or broccoli stemms (bonus tip: just eat broccoli stems as you would the rest of the broccoli - it works exactly the same). If you store up all of these cuttings (you can just chuck them all in a freezer bag) they can eventually make a good homemade, soup broth or stock.

Get cozy with your freezer
Probably the best way of ensuring that your food doesn’t end up rotting in a landfill is to get used to using your freezer. This can be either to freeze ingredients that might go out of date by the time you use them or to freeze the leftovers or extras after cooking. Obviously, this only works if you have enough freezer space, but it’s always useful to have some freezer meals in your back pocket for those days when you don’t want to cook and can’t afford a takeaway.

As with all our challenges, let me know if you have any other ideas or tips on how to reduce your personal food waste. Get in touch with me via social media or hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

References


[1] Food Waste: What is it and how does it affect the environment?, BBC, (Oct, 2020), https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/54466096
[2] Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults, Pauline Ducrot, Caroline Méjean, Vani Aroumougame, Gladys Ibanez, Benjamin Allès, Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, Serge Hercberg and Sandrine Péneau, (Feb 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5288891/

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Week Thirty

Two

02/08/2021

Slow Down on Fast Fashion

Reduce the impact what you wear is having on people and the environment

We’ve all got clothes that we don’t wear anymore. I’ve got bags full. As new fashion trends seem to only be arriving quicker and quicker, the drive to buy new clothes from highstreet retailers is growing. However, as you may have already heard, this over consumption of so called ‘fast fashion’ is a huge drain on resources as well as being bad for the workers in the countries where the garments are made. Here are some rules to live by when buying your next item of clothing.

Buy Less
Hey, this feels familiar. Similarly, to the challenge a couple of weeks ago, the best thing we can do to reduce the impact of our clothing is to buy less. This means working out what you actually need and buying specifically that without picking up any other ‘bargains’ on the way.

Hand in hand with this is buying items that last. Often times these are more expensive and so can seem more daunting of a purchase, but, in the long run, you’ll probably end up spending less on one good item than many poor items over the years.

Buy Second Hand
Obviously, everyone needs to buy clothes sometimes. The best way to ensure the clothes you do buy are low impact is to try and pick them up second hand. There is a whole suite of apps nowadays dedicated to this (I’ve only ever used Depop but there are plenty of alternatives out there), but it’s just as easy, and arguably a little more fun, to hunt out super-cheap items in charity shops.

The system only works if you also clear out the backs of your wardrobes and attics of any unwanted clothing. If you’re patient and have a particuarly good fashion sense you could even make a few spare quid by selling these items on the second hand clothing apps already mentioned.

There’s plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to buy second-hand. For example, second-hand underwear is clearly a no-no. For the vast majority however, t-shirts, trousers, jumpers, jackets and almost all the rest, a good wash is all it needs before it’s good as new.

Buy Sustainable
The final tip is to try and buy from more ethical suppliers when you can. Not only does this support smaller businesses and reduce the environmental impact of your purchases but they also tend to be the suppliers with the best track record in terms of working conditions.

Now, it can be pretty hard to split a brands marketing about their sustainability from what they actually do. Helpfully, there’s a site you can use to vet whether they’re living up to their word. Good On You allows you to search basically any fashion brand and see an overall rating as well as break downs for People, Planet and Animals.

Like always, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments. Either @ me on social media or email me via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Thirty

Three

26/07/2021

Make The Most of Your Supermarket Haul

Try to reduce the amount of food you waste

In the UK, we waste 6.6 million tonnes of food every year. Around 4.5 million of that is edible food (e.g. not tea bags or eggshells). That includes 20 million slices of bread - creating the equivalent emissions of 140,000 cars per year - and 0.9 million bananas every day - wasting 330 billion litres of water each year [1].

Plan your meals
Now depending on who’s reading this, this tip might either sound incredibly obvious or overly organised. According to a French study (the only study I could find on the matter), only 57% of people plan their meals out in advance, and some of those were only doing it ‘rarely’ [2].

This is something that I’ve always done (thanks Mum & Dad), but it’s probably a little more difficult if you don’t know exactly who will be in on what days (for example if you have older children - sorry Mum & Dad). The basic idea is that with this meal plan you can buy exactly what you need from the supermarket and your far less likely to have items that go out of date. You don’t have to necessarily plan what order you eat the meals, but having seven meals to eat before you next go shopping also takes some of the pressure off.

I’d like to tag an extra tip on here - don’t go to the supermarket when you’re hungry - I always end up with way more food than I need.

Use your cuttings
We waste a huge amount of food just by trimming out vegetables. The ends of onions, leafy parts of cauliflowers or broccoli stemms (bonus tip: just eat broccoli stems as you would the rest of the broccoli - it works exactly the same). If you store up all of these cuttings (you can just chuck them all in a freezer bag) they can eventually make a good homemade, soup broth or stock.

Get cozy with your freezer
Probably the best way of ensuring that your food doesn’t end up rotting in a landfill is to get used to using your freezer. This can be either to freeze ingredients that might go out of date by the time you use them or to freeze the leftovers or extras after cooking. Obviously, this only works if you have enough freezer space, but it’s always useful to have some freezer meals in your back pocket for those days when you don’t want to cook and can’t afford a takeaway.

As with all our challenges, let me know if you have any other ideas or tips on how to reduce your personal food waste. Get in touch with me via social media or hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

References


[1] Food Waste: What is it and how does it affect the environment?, BBC, (Oct, 2020), https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/54466096
[2] Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults, Pauline Ducrot, Caroline Méjean, Vani Aroumougame, Gladys Ibanez, Benjamin Allès, Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, Serge Hercberg and Sandrine Péneau, (Feb 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5288891/

09/08/2021

Listen to the Scientists

Try to take in as much information as you can from the IPCC’s landmark report

A short one this week as the challenge is probably going to involve you doing some kind of reading. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is one of the most, if not the most, official and respected voices on climate change. Today (Monday the 9th of August) they’re releasing the first part of their latest report into the progress of climate change and environmental degradation.

But, who are they? People a lot smarter than me, that’s why we should be reading and listening to what they have to say. The group is made up of hundreds of the world's top scientists with thousands more contributing voluntarily. They spend years looking at the most recent scientific papers to come to conclusions and predictions about how the climate is changing and how it will do so in the future.

The last time the report was complied was back in 2013 and A LOT has changed since then. In each of it’s five previous editions the predictions have become more and more alarming and there’s no reason to doubt that this will be the case in their sixth report released today. So, take the week to try and ingest some of the important information about what is going on and, going into the COP26 climate talks in Scotland later this year, see how we can use this information to put pressure on our governments to do more to tackle the issue.

As always, reach out if you have any questions or comments via social media or on email at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Thirty

Four

16/08/2021

Pause Internet Video

Try to cut down on the amount of internet video you stream

Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, The Crown, The Mandalorian, Black Mirror, and most ironically nearly everything David Attenborough has ever produced. I’ve streamed them all, and that’s not to mention the constant, increasingly unsteady, flow of YouTube, Instagram and, Facebook videos that fill any brief lapse in concentration or occupation in my daily life. Some of that comes at quite literally zero financial cost to me. As always in these challenges, it’s the climate rather than the financial impact we’re focussing on, and it’s becoming now clear that video streaming can be one of the worst digital activities for the planet.

Okay, I understand that this might well be one of the toughest challenges yet. Believe me, I’m feeling it too. However, as pointed out in the BBC Three short-form documentary ‘Dirty Streaming’, given that BBC Three is entirely online now I have to acknowledge that I did stream this programme, streaming video has a significant climate impact and we ought to do something about it.

The fact is that the internet as a whole has an impact, because like most things in the 21st century it uses a lot of electricity, but 80% of internet traffic can be attributed to video [1]. If you split that up into its parts you get four major subsections of video. Firstly, there’s your VOD or Video On Demand suppliers, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and many, many more services looking to get you hooked on their subscription plans. Secondly, there’s - how should I put this? - more adult entertainment, which currently produces the same amount of CO2 as Belgium every year [2]. In joint third then comes YouTube and social media video.

So what is the actual impact of your streaming? Obviously, there’s variation in these numbers depending on the amount of Internet video you watch. The BBC documentary estimates that by binging all of Peaky Blinders, for example, you would be emitting as much pollution as driving from Birmingham to Manchester, an 88-mile journey. The Shift Project calculated that our entire streaming usage emits just over 300Mt of CO2 equivalent, around 1% of the world’s entire emissions [3]. Although it’s worth noting that this paper has been criticised by some in the field for over estimations.

So our challenge this week is to try and not stream video. At times this might be hard to avoid, for example, if a social media site has autoplay or you have to stream video for work purposes, but trying our best to see whether we can reduce the amount of internet video in our lives could have a real impact and possibly not only for the planet but for our productivity.

Ofcom (the UK’s broadcasting industry regulator) estimates that for this week, you’ll have on average around an extra 2 hours 29 minutes, rising to 3 hours 52 minutes if you’re aged between 16-34, just from cutting out internet video [4]. Admittedly these statistics are from April 2020 so are skewed a little high by the lockdown surge, but the report suggests this increased demand has held fairly steady since. What will you do with all this free time?.

With the way things are going, it seems unrealistic to give up streaming video entirely. That’s not the aim of the challenge, rather it’s to get you thinking about how much video content you stream and whether you really need to be streaming it.

After this week’s challenge, there are a few other ways you can reduce the impact of your streaming habit.

1. Reduce your amount - As simple as it seems. Do you really need to stream video while you’re cooking, working out, or on the toilet? Sometimes the answer is going to be yes, but I’d wager sometimes it’s also no, so it’s certainly worth asking the question.

2. Reduce your quality - HD video can use as much as 4 times the energy and therefore create 4 times the emissions. Whether it’s someone’s vlog or the latest episode of some reality TV show try switching to a lower quality video setting and see if it makes that much of a difference.

3. Reduce your use on the go - 4G, and the fast-approaching 5G, use more energy than being tethered to WiFi, so if you’re planning to watch video content on the go consider pre-downloading it to keep the impact down. YouTube and some others might make you pay for this feature but for Netflix and Amazon Prime (on some devices) it’s all part of what you already pay.

Personally, I doubt I’ll ever be able to cut out streaming entirely, but I’ve found that I can live with some of the steps above and have actually found far more rewarding ways to fill my spare time instead of the most recent police detective thriller series someones churned out. Let me know how you got on in the challenge and anything you’ve found particularly difficult either by using the survey on this page or getting in touch on social media.

References


[1] Cisco Visual Networking Index Predicts Global Annual IP Traffic to Exceed Three Zettabytes by 2021, Cisco, 2017, https://newsroom.cisco.com/press-release-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1853168

[2] Porn produces same amount of carbon dioxide as whole of Belgium, study finds, Phoebe Weston, Independent, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/porn-online-carbon-dioxide-emissions-climate-change-belgium-a9002241.html

[3] CLIMATE CRISIS: THE UNSUSTAINABLE USE OF ONLINE VIDEO, The Shift Project, 2019, https://theshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-02.pdf

[4] Lockdown leads to surge in TV screen time and streaming, OfCom, April 2020, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/features-and-news/lockdown-leads-to-surge-in-tv-screen-time-and-streaming

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Week Thirty

Five

23/08/2021

Speak Truth To Power

Email you MP as part of Great Big Green Week

How many emails do you send a day? It probably depends on your job, for me, someone who works from home in a tech job it's a lot, sometimes an overwhelming number. Perhaps for you, it's not very many or even 0. No matter how many you send, one more can't be that much more effort. This week let's use an extra email to make sure those who represent us know how we feel.

At the end of the day, without the government on the side of the climate, everything we do is in vain. That might seem like a long shot now but we have to try and if there's one thing politicians are scared of (I'm sure there are many things actually) it's losing their jobs because the public votes them out of office.

So what should we say? Well, helpfully, The Climate Coalition is currently gearing up for their Great Big Green Week and has put together a helpful template as a starting point for your MP email (it will also tell you who your MP actually is if you don't already know).

Their template includes a request to meet up with your MP to make your opinion even more clear but if you're not up for this part you can just copy the template into your own email and remove that part.

I'd love to hear any interesting (either bad or good) responses you get back in the coming weeks. Any other questions send me a message on social media or if you're not all emailed out, get in touch via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Thirty

Six

06/09/2021

Drive Economically

Get where you going slightly more efficiently with these eco-driving tips

We all know that driving non-electric cars is a major part of our share of emissions. Unfortunately, for many of us, cars are a necessary part of life and having the money knocking around to buy an eclectic car is a luxury for most. That being said - if you can, buying an electric car would blow most of these tips out of the water so it’s always worth having a look to see if it’s possible for you.

So, what can we be doing with our regular cars to try and improve our fuel economy. These tips will not only save on emissions but also on a bit of cash in the long run.

Drive Less
Pretty obvious, right? If we can walk, cycle or use public transport more then wonderful. However, for a multitude of reasons, this isn’t possible for a lot of us.

Stick to the Limit
At higher speeds, driving even a little faster than you should be can cause far more pollution. It’s estimated that the difference between going at 60 MPH and 70 is around 9% but the change from 70 to 80 is somewhere more like 25% extra fuel.

Lighten the Load
Got a boot full of junk? Well, it might seem obvious, but all that junk has its own environmental footprint and it’s growing each time you drive in needlessly from A to B. Try to trim the fat and get your car as empty as possible on a regular basis.

Stop Being Such a Drag
Anything attached to the outside of your car is going to cause more drag and make your car use more fuel. For most people this is unlikely to be a problem, but, if like me for many years, you have a set of roof bars that you just can’t be bothered to remove in between uses, then you’re going to end up using slightly more fuel to push them through the air.

Get a Good Service
It can be pricey to get your car serviced regularly and, if you have a car like mine, it can be a little scary waiting for the results. However, in the long run, you’re probably going to spot some issues earlier than you would otherwise and possibly even save yourself a hefty repair bill down the line. As the mechanic is checking that your car is running at its most efficient you’ll also help to reduce the emissions of your vehicle.

Don’t Switch Off
One of the more surprising tips I found while looking into this topic is that, in many cases, switching off the engine while waiting isn’t better for fuel economy. There are some big caveats to this. Firstly, if you have a car modern enough to have an automatic stop/start system then having this feature on is the most efficient way of running your car. Secondly, switching off the engine while waiting has its worst effects when the car is cold. As most of the times I find myself stopping at a light or in traffic are when leaving or moving around my town, my car is often cold. Try to only cut the engine off if you’re stopped after driving for more than 15 minutes or so. Finally, anything over three minutes is worth cutting out in most cars. In my experience, this is normally only commonplace at level crossings but particularly bad traffic or broken temporary traffic lights might do the trick too.

The Cons of Air-Con
While it can be nice to have the refreshingly cool air-con blowing while driving, unfortunately, it runs down your fuel economy. The impact is much less significant while traveling at high speeds (e.g. on the motorway) but it’s still a point to consider. Around towns and on slower roads try to use your windows more than the artificial air-con.

You can keep reading about a few more tips over on the AA’s website here.

As always, reach out if you have any questions or comments via social media or on email at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Thirty

Seven

12/09/2021

Something Fishy

Cut fish out of your diet for a week to see if you can live without it

Fish look weird. There I said it. I’m not sure if this is entirely the reason, but something about the distinguishment of fish meat from all other land mammal meat has meant it’s had an entirely separate role to play in many cultures. One of the clearest examples of this split is in the pescatarian diet. So, we’ve talked about cutting out meat, eggs and dairy so it feels about right that we should also talk about cutting out fish in case anyone was thinking of taking the sneaky route out of reducing their ‘meat’ intake.

As someone who’s never really liked fish, this would have been an easy challenge for me even before I went vegetarian. However, since then there’s been a huge amount of debate around the environmental cost of fish consumption and whether it’s ethical.

Most recently, and probably most loudly, this came in the form of the Netflix documentary ‘Seaspiracy’. Now, I know this is a controversial film and - rightly or wrongly - it’s been criticised by plenty - even from both sides of the debate in some cases. Yet, it still raises an important question to look at, what are the impacts of fishing?

One thing fish has got going for it over other meats is its comparatively small amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The real cost of fish is in the damage it’s doing to our oceans. Because we haven’t got all day, here’s a whistle-stop tour of three ways in which open sea fishing harms the planet.

1. Bycatch - this is all the life that gets caught up in the net of a fisherman but is unwanted and therefore, most commonly, discarded. The classic example of this are the big lovable sea creatures like dolphins or turtles but it can mean any life that isn’t the ‘target species’. This means that even if it’s another edible fish that’s been caught it’s just as likely to get discarded because people are looking to buy a specific fish.

2. Marine pollution and ecological damage - we’ve all heard of and probably seen pictures of ocean plastic waste. Well, a significant chunk of this waste and some of the most dangerous to marine life comes from fishing vessels. Known eerily as ‘ghost nets’, some fishing nets are discarded into the ocean where they float around waiting to entangle, trap and kill. There are also a swathe of fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, that cause a huge amount of damage to delicate marine habitats such as sea grass forests.

3. Overfishing - probably the headliner of the trio, because a lot of the ocean isn’t controlled by one government, and even where it is they often have a complicated time enforcing their fishing boundaries, it’s hard to make sure no one is taking too much. There have been schemes to help numbers recover and some have worked and some haven’t. The point is, it’s very tricky to tell when browsing the supermarket or the local chippy which fish were in quota and which are over quota.

So ocean fishing is having an undeniable impact on the planet’s marine habitats. Could we try something else to still get our fill of fish fingers? The next logical step would probably be fish farming. Unfortunately, this has about as many issues. The cramped, unhealthy conditions in many farms leads to diseases spreading rapidly, not only harming the farmed fish but also possibly transmitting the illness to wild fish in adjoining waters. Secondly, it leads to far more of something called eutrophication. This describes the overabundance of nutrients in a water habitat and encourages the growth of vast amounts of harmful algae. This plant life sucks so much of the oxygen out of the water that other marine life cannot survive, creating so-called ‘dead zones’. Additionally, when the algae die they sink in the water and release carbon dioxide as they decompose. Eventually, this builds up and adds to the issue of ocean acidification.

This week keep all of this in mind and test out a fish-free diet. Obviously, I’m not suggesting replacing it with other meats but rather plant-based alternatives like the various fish emulating vegetarian products you can now find in supermarkets.

As always, reach out if you have any questions or comments via social media or on email at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

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Week Thirty

Eight

20/09/2021

Hold Out a Bit Longer

Delay your heating switch-on

It’s getting to that time of year. Nights are getting shorter. Mornings are getting dewy-er (not a word). The leaves are starting to change colour. Eventually, and probably before we even realise, we’ll be into a good old British winter. With that comes the inevitable question of when to switch the heating on.

All the way back in week four we looked at a government study that suggested that one of the simplest, quickest and easiest things we can do to reduce our footprint in our households was to turn our heating down by just one degree. Well, that very same paper also evaluates a couple more methods for reducing household emissions. The next most impactful change was to delay your heating switch on from October to November. With the prominence of gas heating and the current gas price situation, now more than ever, being fuel-efficient is also money efficient.

So lets see how far into October we can get without turning out heating back on. Obviously, if we have a ridiculously cold snap, turn your heating on, I don’t want to be sued. If we can make it all the way to November we’ll have saved somewhere around 670 kWh of energy.

Using the same numbers that I used at the start of the year (obviously, the financial cost might be much higher than this now/ going into the winter because of the gas shortage) you get figures of around 185kg of CO2e and £35 saved a year.

If you’ve got any questions or comments about this week’s challenge, feel free to reach out via social media or at hello@climatechallenge.org.uk.

References


Main Study - How much energy could be saved by making small changes to everyday household behaviours?, Jason Palmer, Nicola Terry, Peter Pope, p. 5, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/128720/6923-how-much-energy-could-be-saved-by-making-small-cha.pdf
Average emissions per kWh for a modern gas boiler - Carbon Footprint of Heat Generation, Houses of Parliament Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology ,p. 2, https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/POST-PN-0523/POST-PN-0523.pdf.
Average cost of a kWh of energy from gas - Energy Saving Trust, https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/about-us/our-data/

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Week Thirty

Nine

27/09/2021

Start Your Engines

Scout out the electric car options to see if they’re attainable, now or in the future

Another environmentalist’s cliche. But it’s a cliche for a reason. It works. Switching from a fossil-fuel-powered car to an electric one is one of the biggest single changes we can make. Annoyingly, as with a lot of planet-friendly options to be fair, it comes with an increased price tag.

With Tesla being the indisputable face of electric cars to many people, it’s not hard to see why most people think an electric car is out of reach for them. However, with so many alternatives out there now, in some ways it’s like looking at a Porche and deciding that all cars are unaffordable.

This week’s challenge isn’t to head out and hand over a wad of cash for a new ride (unless you want to of course). Instead, I just want to encourage people to look at what’s out there. Ultimately, those of us who are able to afford to do so can play a significant part in driving down the price of these vehicles by putting our money where our mouth is and buying one.

As we get further into this generation of electric cars there are also more and more popping up as second-hand or even third-hand sales. With far fewer moving parts than your regular internal combustion engine car, there’s less to worry about checking - especially, if like me, you have no idea what’s going on under the bonnet.

It’s also worth remembering that if you see a price that’s higher than you expected, you’d spend less money running that car than with regular petrol or diesel vehicles. With much cheaper fuel/energy, cheaper servicing because of the relative simplicity of their mechanical design and the exemption from all road tax, there’s an argument electric cars can actually be cheaper in the long run.

Finally, if you were going to buy from new and were looking at a model priced under £35,000 then you would also receive a £2,500 government grant when purchasing.

So, take a look at what’s out there and consider if your next car could be one powered by electricity (from a green energy supplier of course) rather than some old, mushed-up dinosaurs or whatever fossil fuels actually are. Give me a shout via hello@climatechallenge.org.uk or on social media for any questions.

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