Current Location: London, UK
I haven’t written about my last few monthly challenges because sometimes they make me feel a bit silly. I read stories on the news about American immigrants being deported, women sexually assaulted in the workplace, and people starving to death in North Korea and I wonder, what is the point? In the grand scheme of things, does any of this matter? Sometimes I feel very small.
I read an article a few days ago on Grist entitled “Climate Strange” about how the ‘eco-obsessed’ are working to challenge norms and it reminded me of why I do this. I believe in systemic change, that individuals can alter norms, and that no act is too small. It is both a product of optimism and pessimism: many days I doubt the ability of politicians and leaders to drive top-down change, but I still believe in the power of people to shift demand.
“Behavior normalization is a powerful driver of climate-conscious lifestyles…Basically, in “norm activation theory,” we make decisions based on our sense of personal moral obligation, expected consequences, and, significantly, the expectations of our peers.” — Eve Andrews, Climate Strange
In that spirit, here is a roundup of my past three months’ challenges:
December: Eco-Friendly Cleaning
I was away most of December, and while I tried to make my travel as waste-free as possible, I wanted this challenge to be a starting point for the new year (literally starting clean). I decided not to purchase chemical, harmful, or waste-creating cleaning products. I still have a few products that I’m working my way through, but here are the swaps I’ve made so far:
- For washing clothes and dishes I already use environmentally-friendly products by ecover, which I refill at my local As Nature Intended.
- When I ran out of disposable sponges, I switched over to plant-based compostable brushes by Redecker. They’re more expensive than typical sponges, but they clean way more efficiently and last so much longer (I’ve had mine for 2+ months and I don’t anticipate having to change the brush head for a while). If you’re in the US, you can find a similar version at Package Free Shop.
- Instead of buying chemical-based kitchen cleaner, I decided to DIY and I swear my recipe is cheaper and works even better. Mix 1 part salt, 1 part baking soda, and 1 part water, and scrub! (See before and after photos below for proof)
- I swapped out chemical drain cleaner for a mix of baking soda and lemon juice. Works like a charm, and smells way better!
For the record (and my mother’s peace of mind), I don’t usually let it get that grimy, this was purely for the before-after photo op.
January: Just Say No
A very hungover Caroline rose and had her last disposable coffee cup on New Year’s Day 2018. I’ve decided to make my January challenge to completely eliminate single-use disposable beverage containers from my life. Even though I’m generally very good about not accepting disposable items, it is easy to say ‘well, just this once’ unless you have made a formal commitment.
I was inspired to make this my January challenge by Pret A Manger’s CEO who had been hinting through December and officially announced in January that Pret would increase its reusable cup discount from 25p to 50p.
This is a fairly straightforward challenge for me: I own a KeepCup and a refillable water bottle, and I have plenty of tea and coffee at home. There is no reason for me to ever need a disposable beverage container. The only change I have to make is forethought. That said, this has still been a bit tricky. More than anything, this challenge has saved me money by helping me separate out wants versus needs. If I didn’t pack my KeepCup, I don’t really need it.
February: Packaged Foods
This is probably the weakest and least concrete challenge I have done thus far. I’m working through my sustainable food challenge and trying to be mindful of foods that come in non-recyclable packaging. However, this is extremely difficult as most produce in the UK is not sold loose, it’s sold completely wrapped up in plastic. I find this very frustrating since generally the UK is better than the US about recycling and reducing plastic in general, but this is the exception. Since I don’t live near a farmer’s market it is not possible for me to buy everything unpackaged, but I’m making a concerted effort to:
- Avoid buying pre-made fast food (planning ahead and packing lunches and snacks)
- Bringing my own container to shops (Rola Wala lets me use my own bowl!)
- Buying plastic-free produce whenever possible
- Refusing plastic cutlery (I bring my own) and straws
- Buying in bulk whenever possible
- Choosing the recyclable package when it is an option
More to come!