Pandemic-proof sustainable swaps you can do right now

You may have read in my last post that I’ve felt overwhelmed or hopeless at times due to the scale of the challenge we currently face in trying to leave the world better than we found it, and how especially since the pandemic hit, the impact of all this extra single-use has been weighing heavily on my mind – and many others’ too. Despite all this though, there are a few ways in which we can try to regain some control over the pesky plastics/increasing waste in our lives and sustainably survive numerous lockdowns, so I’d like to share some.

Firstly, containers. Now is a great time to do a kitchen audit to work out how much tupperware you actually own and how many jars might be lying around unused, so that they may find a new use (any tubs without lids could be repurposed as plant pots , organisation trays or all manner of things before being lovingly recycled at the end of their life) and you can be prepared for the next time you’re heading out into the world by taking a container with you. Granted, there are currently fewer opportunities to use your own containers while shopping than usual, but you never know when you might need one! Plus, if there’s somewhere you usually refill at, there’s no harm in gently asking them what their current measures allow.

Secondly, the obvious. Reusable masks. These are now widely available and often in upcycled materials too! Simply wear, wash, reuse to avoid those single-use ones as best you can.

Bags for life. These have continued as normal throughout the pandemic so please let’s do all we can to keep this habit going. It’s super easy, even for a forgetful person, if you fold them up small and tuck into coat pockets or loop around bag handles. One of the best lockdown purchases we made was a granny trolley (not sure what the real name is?) and it’s absolutely perfect for our Albany Road shop or a medium-sized grocery run – would highly recommend.

Straws. You can still ask for no straw when drinking out and about and be prepared by taking your own. So long as you wash it at home between each outing, you’re good to go. Many places are serving paper ones at the moment which may well disintegrate before you finish your drink anyway, so best to have one on you in case.

Organic / local veg boxes. When the first lockdown hit demand for these was through the roof and you couldn’t get a subscription anywhere, but as things have settled a bit why not find out if there’s somewhere local to you that offers a veg box delivery scheme? In Cardiff there are the likes of Penylan Pantry, Kemi’s or Paul’s Veg. I’ve been a subscriber to Abel & Cole boxes for several years since living with my in-laws for a while where I didn’t know the nearby plastic-free options; it’s been not only a life saver during lockdown but also a relief because there was less to worry about in when doing the rest of the grocery shop (which for me was a highly stressful experience in which I would always panic buy and forget half my list anyway).

Advantages of local boxes: it’s often sourced super locally, you support a small business and contents vary depending on what’s available. Advantages of larger ones like Abel & Cole or Riverford: you’re supporting a breadth of growers from across the UK, it’s organic and seasonal and their suppliers are all sustainability vetted from the off. I can also add normal groceries into my weekly deliveries as and when required such as dishwasher tablets, pet food or even shampoo bars and so on – but choose what’s right for you based on convenience & individual requirements.

Eat more plants. I know this is controversial for some, but if you follow my Instagram you’ll have seen that I did Veganuary this year after having been vegetarian since early high school. Personally, I’m not in the ban-everything-that-isn’t-vegan camp, but instead believe that reducing by even a few meals a week and working out what works best for you is the way to go. And if you do decide to consume meat or animal products, try to source them as sustainably as possible i.e. organic, free range, local. If you’re finding you have more time at home since the pandemic, why not try some new recipes or swapping out some of your usual ingredients for plant-based options? You might find something you love! As a keen cook I loved the creativity that came with the challenge and although I haven’t remained totally vegan, the balance has definitely shifted!

Water bottles & refills. Just recently, Refill UK expanded their app to include places to take your own containers and shop plastic free as well as refilling your water bottle, which is fantastic! If your local isn’t on there yet, give them a gentle nudge and spread the word. Whilst some places may have revoked the option to refill your water bottle for the time being, you can still take your own around with you to save buying bottles on the move.

Contactless Coffee. As above, this is a little more tricky nowadays but there are still places that will refill your own reusable coffee cup if you ask nicely. Check out Hungry City Hippy’s post for the list, and if you can, please support them. Praise them for being brave enough to follow the science and allow refills during a time when so many chains are refusing to switch back. 

In other words, being prepared is still never a bad thing and better to try and be turned down than not try at all. Taking your own homemade food/drink around with you is also a great option to be on the safe side whilst reducing your waste, especially as food waste is something that initially saw a huge reduction during lockdown, but is sadly back on the rise. Being wary of the packaging that comes with most takeaways and using what we already have at home is also something that shouldn’t change with the pandemic.

Support your locals. This may seem in contrary to the above, but what I mean is that whilst we should be trying to reduce our waste at home be it food or takeaway packaging, when you are planning to treat ourselves then do it from somewhere local – better yet, dine in if you’re able. Shopping local where possible will also help small businesses stay alive, which feeds back into the community and reduces carbon footprint to a degree.

Cycling. At one point in lockdown it seemed like everyone & their dog was buying a bike. Although I was a little late to the party, I too managed to pick up a secondhand beauty that I’ve loved taking out on adventures since. I wasn’t a confident cyclist at all to begin with, especially nervous about navigating roads (cycling routes can be totally different to driving) and braving traffic, but with careful practice and the right tools* I’m much more confident now and trying to cycle within the city as much as is personally feasible – which does feel a lot more cyclist-friendly since lockdown lifted, possibly due to increased uptake forcing drivers to get used to it a bit more. I still need to get lights fitted and I’m still too scared to leave it locked up anywhere, but it’s progress. So if you do have a bicycle at home, why not give it a whirl next time you fancy a walk in the park or a trip across town? It’ll benefit both you & the planet in one hit.
*I’ve started using an app & bike phone holder from Bike Citizens which I often find better than Google maps cycle mode as it tends to avoid more main roads & recommends the route other users take most often. Not an ad, but if you’re interested I’ll link it here.

Lastly, use this extra time at home to try things out that you’ve previously avoided, such as shampoo bars, plastic-free toothpaste or natural deodorant (the latter of which I’ve tried plenty, including most recently the refillable Wild subscription, but not found one that works long-term for me yet sadly). If you’re mostly working from home like me then no one’s going to know if you smell a bit funky, and webcams aren’t often precise enough to tell if your hair’s looking greasy. So, what’s the harm? May as well try it now while you have the chance to hide away if it goes wrong. (Hopefully it doesn’t though and you’re totally converted for years to come!) I’ve had to try several different brands of things sometimes to find one I get on with – everyone’s bodies are different.

This may sound simple and I’m not saying I’m perfect, but maintaining these habits as best we can exercises a bit of control over our own lives in such uncertain circumstances, which really helps not only the impact on the planet but also on your own sanity. Anything else is a bonus at this point.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

2020: the age of anxiety

Here we are, in the latter half of what’s been a bloody gruelling year and I know I want to write again, to air out my frustrations and re-learn how to start sharing my attempts at living a sustainable lifestyle, but it feels so much harder than before. So much has happened recently that could easily destroy anyone’s faith in humanity. Politics is a shit show. Globally, not just locally. The public’s views seem to be more extreme either way than ever before, at least in my mere 26 years of experience. The media has more control over how we think and feel than most of us ever fully realised, which is terrifying, and social media knows more about us nowadays than we know about ourselves. Yet there is still hope, in a few places.

People like AOC and Jacinda Adern and the late RBG inspire me to push through and get to work on making a better future by acting now. Even closer to home, each time I speak to or see Sophie on my weekly Ripple shops or Phill & Deb on my almost-just-as-regular Dusty Knuckle indulgences I’m in awe of their sheer will, determination and incredible resilience to keep carrying on, despite the world seeming to work against us at every given opportunity. And that’s what keeps me going, what’s pushing me to overcome my mental block and eco-anxiety and get back to it.

The thing that’s been holding me back is that I just feel overwhelmed. And anxious as a result. I don’t even know if you’ll have read this far, thank you if you have. But I can’t be alone in this feeling that I more and more often need to take a step back from environmental news, from online activism, from self-education and all the other things that consume our lives as environmentalists so much so that there’s hardly any room for anything else. There is nothing else, everything relates back to this social and environmental injustice that we cannot escape.

And escaping it at all is a demonstration of my white, cis-gendered, middle-class privilege that I haven’t earned in any way, shape or form and undoubtedly benefits me more than I can ever fully understand, despite my best efforts. So why should I? Why should I get to put my phone down and walk away when others can’t? I don’t deserve to take a break because the world doesn’t take a break. Capitalism and racism and LGBTQIA phobia don’t take breaks. But I have to otherwise I’ll explode. You can’t give from an empty cup, or however the saying goes.

Where do I start from then? To get back on course with doing all I can possibly do to make things change – or at least, sharing it. And herein lies another problem: I’ve plateaued in my ‘sustainability’ attempts. If anything, 99% of us will have gone backwards during the pandemic, but some sort of normality is returning in the sense that plastic-free fruit & veg is still pretty widely available, veg boxes and recipe boxes are still available and hopefully many more people are now enjoying the benefits they bring with them. Zero waste/refill shops are back open, my local Ripple is now letting us bring our own containers back which is a life saver (I’m awful at working things out by grams) so there are already habits we can bring back into our lives to give us a bit more sense of control over the situation, albeit limited compared to before.

In Cardiff, several of our wonderful local indepedents are championing a Contactless Coffee campaign where they’re allowing people to begin using reusable coffee cups again in a bid to bring them back into public normality. Indeed, scientifically there is no reason why everywhere can’t now accept them back, but there’s resistance to change for fear of liability and/or of a virus we don’t really understand. Where possible, therefore, it’s important to support those that are already brave enough and conscientious enough to do this – you can find a list here. In even more recent news, Refill have now updated their app to allow you to find nearby places not just to refill your water bottle, but also your coffee, take your own food containers or shop plastic free. These are just two small ways you can bring some control back over the single-use waste in your life, and it’s a lifeline for the eco-anxiety we all feel now more than ever. That’s not to make light of anxiety, I actually do mean anxiety. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of people reporting high levels of anxiety and almost 1 in 5 UK adults feeling hopeless (compared to 1 in 3 18-24 year olds). I’m not ashamed to admit I had a few more counselling sessions to work some things out – and fortunate enough to have the privilege and access to do so.

Although this is another thing that’s stressing me out is this seemingly constant need to justify everything at the moment. To constantly acknowledge my privilege when referring to anything and everything. I’m not saying don’t acknowledge it at all because that would be part of the problem, but I finally seem to have fallen down the hole I successfully avoided for so much of my online life of not feeling good enough or woke enough to be able to exist or compete in the online sustainability space. It’s exhausting. I used to do this for me and only me, I wasn’t worried about acceptance or being proven wrong. It was enough just to have a passion I could share with the world.

Well, rightly or wrongly I want that back. I’m determined to back myself again in this space because one person can make a difference, we’ve seen evidence of that time and time again. Do the work on the social injustice, diversify your social media feeds and continue the background reading but for F sake don’t be afraid to share your sustainable little swaps with the world in case someone might criticise your privilege. There might be someone that comes across your sphere of influence who genuinely learns something new, or if you’re lucky, feels inspired. (Talking to myself here). Just yesterday I watched the final episode of Zac Efron’s Down To Earth on Netflix, which takes a fascinating look at examples of sustainable living from around the world and how small changes in our behaviour can make a difference. However, in this final episode there are California wildfires whilst Zac and co-host Darin Olien are off-grid in the Amazon. They return to civilisation to find that Darin’s home has burned down and he now has everything he owns with him on this trip. It’s astounding. Gob-smacking. And this is someone who has many of the same privileges as many of us in the UK do, does all he can possibly do to tread lightly on the planet and encourage others to do the same, yet he has still been directly impacted by the very climate crisis we try to work against. I’ve heard that Sir David’s latest documentary is having a similar impact on people, I just haven’t emotionally prepared myself for it yet because I know I’m going to weep, but I’m simultaneously thrilled that it’s reaching a wide audience.

These things have reignited a fire under my arse to share my findings, no matter how small, because you never know who might be listening (or in this case, reading). So with this in mind, here are a few things we can all do right now to regain some control on our lives:

  1. Allow yourself to take digital detoxes. Whether it’s an #Offline48, turning your phone off at 9pm, or just muting social media for a few hours a day, it will all help. You need your energy to keep fighting.
  2. Wear reusable face masks as often as you can. It’s not always possible, but try to always keep one on hand.
  3. Take your shopping bags with you everywhere. This hasn’t changed since the pandemic and it’s just one of many ways we can keep pesky plastics at bay. (The best thing we got during lockdown was a granny trolley, highly recommend).
  4. Find out where nearby you can take your reusable coffee cup/containers and make sure you do it. Support them. If your favourite places aren’t doing this, kindly point them to research which supports it.
  5. Plan your meals to avoid wasting food (& money). Freeze leftovers or keep them for another day. Plan in your treat meals so you can still support local restaurants – within your own means.

More on this coming very soon…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx