Going Eco at Home
Originally Published June 2019 on jakemahal.com (revised and updated June 2022) – all our original ideas and tests have been left in so you can see the journey we have been on and where we have landed at for now. Hopefully this also provides you with some alternatives to our current preferences. Warning – this makes for a very long blog post so set aside some time or take it in chunks!
Over the past two and a half years (now five and a half) we’ve attempted to carefully consider what is going on in our home and the environmental impact we’re having – as well as the human health impact. Generally, we’ve aimed to examine one area a month, conduct some research (read blogs, social media rants and academic articles etc) and then implement a change. Doing this slowly, step-by-step has meant that we don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once, can assess budget implications as we go and most importantly has meant fewer knee-jerk reactions that we later regret, due to jumping into something ill-considered that isn’t as good for the environment as we thought. We’re well aware that we may have still got some things wrong and made some negligible or even detrimental changes – if you can shed any light on these, please let us know.
We realise that this is only part of the picture and that we must also lobby politicians, write to companies and expose those who are knowingly damaging the planet for financial gain if we are to fully achieve what we must as a generation. Every action we expect of others we must also expect of ourselves so we’ve started at home; “it’s only a drop in the ocean, but after all, the ocean is made up of many drops” (thanks for that one Momma T).
Below are the changes we can remember making, how we went about them and the pros and cons of having made each change. This may all be old news to you, but if there is something new to you, do some research and perhaps give it a try. Enjoy!
We switched to the phone co-op for our broadband.
Pros: Faster, Cheaper, pays employees a living wage, uses and invests profits in renewable energy.
Cons: None that we’re aware of.
Gas & Electricity
We’ve switched supplier to Green Energy UK who were the only company (at the time of looking) we found to provide both electricity from renewable sources and biogas generated from anaerobic digestion of biomass (farm and brewing waste etc).
Pros: Saved us money on our bill.
Cons: We’re still using too much energy and not being mindful enough around the house. We are exploring how we generate our own energy on our new (Jan 2022) land.
Charging of small appliances
We’ve got a lightweight and packable solar panel that we use for charging things like phones and tablets. We also have a power bank to go with it so that we can store energy for when the sun isn’t out – we’ve been impressed with RavPower – brilliant products with great warranties.
Pros: Since we bought the solar panel it has cost us nothing, we can charge on the go and even power up in remote places where there is no other electricity source.
Cons: None really. Of course it doesn’t work on heavily clouded days. It could be more efficient and hopefully one day will be and will have the capacity to charge larger devices like a laptop.
We’re now using bar shampoo & conditioner rather than liquid in plastic bottles.
Pros: Lovely range of bar shampoos from Lush that do a great job on head hair and beards.
Cons: Expensive! This may have been the most expensive change we’ve made but fear not, Suma have a great range including some bar shampoos and also some bulk quantities of liquid shampoos. We’re picking up some small amounts from a zero waste shop so we can agree, as a family, which one to switch to. It’s worth trying a few to find the one that works for your hair. Don’t give up on the first attempt!
Update: We’re now back onto liquid shampoo after having sampled a few from our friends at Roots Larder in Stafford – we’ve settled on Faith in Nature’s Aloe Vera Shampoo. Aloe vera is already a firm favourite in our house for most things skin and hair – we keep a plant in the bathroom for burns, grazes and any other unidentified skin oddities.
Pros: Faith in Nature say that it is for dry to normal hair but we’ve found it works across all our hair types – from Jake’s dry beard to the kids’ greasy teenage locks. It really is a deep nourisher, which we reckon is the aloe – or perhaps we’ve been suckered in by marketing? But seriously… proof in the pudding… no need for conditioner any more – which is a triple whammy of less effort, less time, less water and less money… oh, quadruple whammy!
Now, we know everyone’s hair is different but if you haven’t given this a go yet we heartily recommend that you do! It literally leaves your hair squeaky clean – it actually squeaks!
When bought in bulk, this is much cheaper than the shampoo bars we all liked.
Cons: The downside is that it comes supplied in a big plastic bottle, which we dispense directly from, and this currently isn’t returnable to be refilled. This is still better than smaller bottles and we will reuse the bottle for food storage, however we look forward to the day when these are returnable and refillable at Suma – we’re promised that this is on the way.
Update: Beauty Kubes – Shampoo & Body Wash
Another trial for our friends at Roots, these are fun little blocks of shampoo and body soap all in one. We’ll admit, we were skeptical initially but they foam up well and each one is more than ample for a whole body wash.
Pros: brilliant travel option when liquids or weight are restricted – worth keeping a couple in stock for a short trip overseas or when off wild camping!
Cons: They are an expensive option for regular use.
Update 2022: Suma released their own brands of liquid shampoo in bulk with bottles that we send back on the lorry the next lot arrives on so they get reused… win! Oh and Tilda felt the need for conditioner alongside the Suma (Alter/Native) shampoo which still works out fine cost wise.
Chemical free/plant derived cleaning
We now use bicarb and vinegar for cleaning, well… nearly everything. The exceptions being, washing up, toilet cleaning and hand washing soap where we use either Bio-D, EcoLeaf or Suma products as well as making our own from castile soap and essential oils.
Pros: Bicarb and vinegar is THE old school cleaning hero and beats anything on surfaces and stains, so long as you’re up for the elbow grease. Suma hand soap is lovely on the hands and the nose. There’s no bleach or other nasties so visitors with sensitive skin are generally safe and it can be used for cleaning in the garden too!
Cons: We can’t seem to buy cheap white vinegar in bulk, we’ve found malt, apple cider and wine vinegars but not the simple stuff. This has meant buying in plastic! Bio-D toilet cleaner has a rather overpowering aroma, you can tell the bathroom is clean from anywhere in the house! If you’re not into that kinda thing then we’re back onto some elbow grease; EcoLeaf toilet cleaner certainly needs elbow grease, unlike the Bio-D, you will have to scrub to prevent a buildup of stains in your toilet bowl!
Update: Surface Sprays – Greenscents‘ – Herbal & SESI’s – Lavender and Rosemary
Alongside our old-school bicarb and vinegar for heavy duty cleaning we picked up some surface cleaning sprays from Roots in Stafford. Both have been a welcome addition to the kitchen and around the house.
Sometimes water on a cloth doesn’t quite seem enough to clear up a spill, especially when there is some grease involved, but getting the bicarb and vinegar out is totally overkill. It’s this gap that these handy sprays fill nicely.
Pros: Both do a great job of cutting through grease and leave surfaces nice and shiny. Both products have pleasing aroma and if you’re not keen then Greenscents have a few varieties including unscented. The Greenscents spray has a more soapy feel to it so we switch which one we use depending on the mess we’re clearing.
Cons: Sesi offer refillable bulk bottles of their concentrated product, but getting through it would take an age, and clog up space in your house, so we reckon you’re best off supporting your local zero-waste shop on this one.
Greenscents offer bulk containers, but again on these products you’ll be stuck with some chunky bottles around the house. Luckily they also offer smaller bottles made of bio-polymers which are derived from byproducts of the processing of sugar cane. This means that, by point of use, there is a chance that these bottles are carbon neutral (i.e. the plant locks up carbon from the atmosphere as it grows but it’s transported using vehicles emitting carbon etc.) but that still seems a stretch.
Of course, if your up for some experimentation then you can totally go homemade on alternatives to these sprays – a simple mix of vinegar and essential oils (tea tree, orange and lavender) or more complex formulas like this.
Update 2022: We started using koh which is a simple potassium hydroxide solution that really gets to work on tough grime and dirt – it even got rid of fly tape residue that we’d tried everything else on over the course of 3 or 4 years!
Pros: it works on pretty much everything including windows, low cost, odour free (it can be scented with some essential oils if you like), very cost effective.
Cons: it’s still not vinegar when it comes to windows, cant be used on soft metals – it tarnishes them! When real abrasion is needed, bicarb still does a better job rather than buying abrasive pads which are usually not long lasting and made from plastic.
Eco-egg for the washing machine
We got rid of the washing power and now use two little egg shaped things with balls inside…
Pros: Very simple to use, just chuck them in with the wash. Saved a heck load of money. Wash very well even on a low heat, including getting blood and mud out of clothes.
Cons: Don’t get your whites whiter than white – we picked up an eco stain remover to aid where this was necessary on whites that had dulled around the collar etc. You can’t use the eco egg over 60c – which is perhaps a contributory factor to the above whites issue. If your drum is over 5kg (as ours is & most people’s are) you need two eggs for a good wash!
Toothy Tabs from Lush
Instead of squeezing white stuff out of a laminated un-recyclable plastic tube we now use little tablets that make you feel like you’ve got some sort of fragranced rabies.
Pros: the aforementioned rabid foaming sensation is actually quite nice but a little easier managed if you only take half a tab. Leave your mouth feeling very clean and you can chop and change between flavours with a great deal of whimsy!
Cons: (Potentially) the lack of fluoride, depending on which dentist you talk to. They are bloody expensive little tabs of toothy goodness – though we found that using half a tab produced a more manageable amount of foam and is easier on the bank balance. Thankfully, if you’re on a budget, like the advice of flourophile dentists and would rather not look like you’ve been bitten by a non-vaccinated monkey then there are alternatives such as Anything But Plastic’s Denttabs which trade in the foam for a chalk based chewing experience (which isn’t that bad at all in truth).
Update: Alternative Toothpaste… Geo-Organics Activated Charcoal Toothpaste
For those not wanting to make a big transition with what goes into their mouth to aid their oral hygiene then this is a winner. Obviously, it’s called toothpaste and it is relatively similar to what we grew up using, only it’s all natural, rich in minerals and the packaging is kind to the earth. We’ve been using this after trying it out for Roots Larder.
The formula is non foaming in a departure from traditional toothpaste and the application method is a little interesting. The pot comes ready with a spatula to excavate the toothpaste and apply to your brush, although we have found it easier to apply it straight into our mouths. This is a small transition and now feels normal but perhaps this would feel more odd if you are sharing with more than just your spouse(?)
Pros: A little goes a long way and its a good job because this particular flavour variation packs a huge menthol like punch. If you were to use an actual ‘pea-size’ amount it would be rather overwhelming. Geo-Organics undersell their own product; as 60ml definitely lasts further than 4 weeks! After using the Activated Charcoal toothpaste our teeth are super smooth, thanks to a whole host of different micro abrasives, which are seemingly hard on the teeth and soft on the gums, and our mouths feel super fresh thanks to the menthol like ingredients. Works out cheaper than toothy tabs.
Cons: We’ve found that getting it into your mouth and working it around your teeth before beginning your brushing routine works best. If you don’t do this, it can be hard work to then get enough of the paste over to the teeth you elected not to start with.
Update 2022: We now make our own toothpaste using coconut oil, bentonite clay, salt, water, stevia and essential oils (clove in particular, as it is nature’s fluoride). If you’d like the recipes we use then get in touch!
Pros: very cheap to make, can be flavoured how you like (we have a morning and evening one to help kick start and wind down the day), no concerns around toxicity, the dentist is still happy with our teeth a few years in.
Cons: can be a bit messy to make.
Growing our own fruit & veg (and flowers that pollinators love)
We’ve up-cycled pallets, acquired planters and pots that people weren’t using, bought a load of local topsoil (more like compost), got some seeds and got planting!
Pros: The biggest thing here, for us, is that this isn’t a lack of consumption or a change in how we consume. Gardening is productive! It’s so important that we learn how to be producers as well as a consumers, it’s this kind of stewardship of the earth that should be one of our primary focuses as a species. Gardening is good for our mental health, it’s some added exercise & has topped up our vitamin D levels. One lovely byproduct has been increased interactions with neighbours who have given us pots, lots of advice and we’ve even been swapping some plants we’ve reared from seed. We’ve attracted bees and pollinators who are making use of our bee hotels and bug hotel. The chickens are having more human interaction which is good for egg laying alongside the extra dietary additions from them stealing leaves from some of our crops!
Cons: We have to be out there pretty much everyday no matter what the weather, but that’s really not a huge sacrifice! We did need to get friends to house sit when we went away recently (for garden and chickens) but they seemed to enjoy the change of scenery!
Update 2022: we left our old house having cultivated an abundant food forest that kept us in veg and salad crop from April to October/November, lots of raised beds filled with perennial and annual veg and some very happy chickens (who also now make compost for us). We moved to a place with 3 times the space in order to grow a food forest perhaps 10 times the size of the one at the old place, a huge raised bed garden, multiple compost systems and more, all working as part of an integrated homestead design which will become a permaculture demonstration site for the suburbs over the next 7 years!
Pros: So much good organic and regenerative food, exercise, vitamin D, connection with nature, lowered inflammation through grounding… the list goes on.
Cons: Hard work… which is actually a pro!
Essential oils and spices in the garden
It’s amazing what essential oils and spices can be used for. Insecticide, fungicide, mushroom-icide(?). Cinnamon, it seems, is so good you should pretty much sprinkle it all over the place.
Pros: No harsh chemicals, using permaculture principles to enrich the plants and the soil so they can be used year on year.
Cons: Essential oils have been an expensive outlay but they do go a long way, just wish we could have spread the cost a little. There are potentially major negative effects of essential oil extraction on the planet, depending on how it is done. We must admit that we didn’t really look into how our essential oils were harvested and the industry isn’t well regulated or that transparent, on the whole. We have also started companion planting the plants from which the oils we’ve used are extracted to help in our pest repellent efforts but we’re still needing to work more on this!
Update 2022: we now source all our essential oils from organic producers many of whom have soil association accreditation which does bring some piece of mind.
Only buying second hand clothes (apart from underwear, school shirts and footwear)
Fast fashion is one of the biggest contributors to climate ecological change. We’ve never really bought into fast fashion, but even our limited consumption has been having a huge effect! The only clothes we now buy new are our underwear, kids’ school shirts (second hand they’re never white!) and footwear – we love Boody pants and socks, they are really comfortable, even when doing long sweaty workouts. We also love Freet barefoot shoes who are a decent ethical company and rather affordable (we feel torn about shoe material; plastic vs leather vs other alternatives – still something to muse on). We’re also excited by companies such as Rapanui who recycle garments once they are wrecked and make them into new ones (we’ve not actually bought anything from them so can’t really endorse them to you, great idea though right?).
Pros: Cheap cheap cheap. Charity shops rock for cheap clothes and the range available is getting better and better.
Cons: Can’t always guarantee we’ll get exactly what you want, especially when it comes to sports gear but it usually pops up eventually and we really can make do with what’s out there if we’re honest with ourselves (which is perhaps the real work to be done in our lives). Freya has found it slightly tricky when buying gifts for babies and had to be more creative – buying washable nappies, books etc.
Update 2022: We moved over to using Vivo Barefoot for shoes as their ethical standards just keep on getting better and most of their shoes can be sent back for repair and even full on resoling – good news given how Jake gets through the soles of shoes! We’ve also started using Darn Tough (through Buy Me Once for socks – once they have a hole they go back and are reused and they ship a new pair out to replace them; they are expensive upfront but, assuming we don’t lose them, they are a sock for life.
Planetary health nutrition
We’re slowly trying to get ourselves onto something resembling the planetary health diet crossed with a primal approach to nutrition, none of us were too keen on this one to begin with but now it seems normal. We’ve bulk bought nuts, beans and lentils and are sprouting everything that can be to increase bioavailability of nutrients and prevent bloating/flatulence. We break this somewhat when it comes to the eggs as we keep chickens. Some would argue we should get rid of the chickens and eat the equivalent energy we feed them, but we totally believe it is healthy to be in close proximity to animals and be connected to them as a food source – also, we really like eggs…
Pros: Fun experimenting with different foods and watching things sprout. Better compliment of micronutrients and more vitamins. We flippin’ love nuts, especially after soaking, so yummy!
Cons: Less tasty steak – red meat is now very rare (pun intended) in our house and always used to be on Jake’s plate (again with the pun) and meat in general is down to about 4 meals a week. Moaning from small people about beans.
Update 2022: Our chickens now need much less food as there is more for them to eat that we produce in the garden, they also make compost for us and we’re at the point where we think we can confidently say that keeping chickens is actually helping us be more ecologically responsible than not keeping chickens. It’s worth nothing that chickens have been taken to every nation on earth by humans… our ancestors knew how ecosystems could work for us and the planet; muse on that for a while.
We have now found an excellent source of regenerative meat, meaning that the animals are putting more carbon back into the ground than they emit and they are helping build diverse and resilient ecosystems. This also means that the meat we get is second to none; you can literally taste that these were animals feeding on a rich and diverse diet – this isn’t BS – the meat seems seasoned even though it’s just been slow cooked (by the way, always slow cook your meat). For more info and indeed to buy some great meat check out Primal Meats. (FYI, we get 10% off our next purchase if you buy using the link but even if this were not true we’d still be recommending using Primal Meats). Also, Lye Cross Farm cheese is the only cheese, we’ve found, which is pasture for life certified meaning, again, that it is a regenerative source of animal product which is good for the animal, humans and the planet!
We don’t eat grains (or very rarely) mainly because of their implications for health but also because grain agriculture is a major player when it comes to industrial agriculture, top soil loss, fossil fuel emissions and royally funking up our stability and biodiversity.
Buying in Bulk from Suma
We’ve referenced Suma a lot in this blog. We club together with two other local families and buy in bulk every few months as you have to spend over £350 per order.
Pros: Great cooperative, takes the guesswork out of buying (to a large degree) as their ethical policies are great. They do stock other brands but only ones that meet their criteria. So far all we’ve bought has been the same price or cheaper than found in stores. Certainly cheaper than zero waste stores and, looking carefully in zero waste stores, we found a lot of what they stock is from Suma!
Cons: Some things still arrive in plastic packaging but to be fair these are generally recycled plastic and to our minds recycled plastic is better than plastic inside fish intestines. They don’t do returnable large containers yet – although we’ve heard rumours that these are on the way. Big bags of chick peas need big cupboards to be stored in – which we don’t really have, so you’ll find containers of chick peas in some strange places around our house!
Update 2022: many of the large containers from Suma are now returnable!
This was not primarily motivated by energy saving but, of course, it does use much less energy when we’re not heating the water. This crazy practice actually came as a health and fitness decision.
Pros: Increased immunity – this sounds like some hippy hype but there is genuine scientific research showing increased white blood cells as a result of cold therapy. Increased ability to manage your body’s nervous system – you actually learn to relax, to not shiver and, over time, learn to be able to consciously control your body’s temperature as well as flight/fight response and other such reactions – again, not new age nonsense! Happy hormones – these get released when using cold therapy, whoop whoop! There are various other benefits which we’ll cover somewhere else at some point – for now enjoy the graphic below!
Cons: Cold Showers! (They do actually become enjoyable over time).
We bought ourselves a HotBin which means we have ready to use compost on all our veggies somewhere in the region of 32 to 64 times faster than conventional composting.
Pros: Easy to use once you get the knack. All food-waste goes in there including bones and chewing gum! Chicken poop (and now dog poop) goes in there as the hot temperatures kill pathogens – this makes some sexy compost! The newer model, which we don’t have, also has a leachate tap so you can harvest the liquid fertiliser.
Cons: A bit of compost engineering (yes that is thing) to learn at first, but Jake is in to geeking out about such things! Expensive for a compost bin, but over the years (all the reviews say they last well) this will save money on buying compost and allow us to better practice some good permaculture.
Update 2022: Our Hotbin is going strong, we also use the Berkeley 18 day compost method, have our chickens composting for us and also keep bathtubs full of worms to process organic matter into worm castings which are excellent in the garden! COMPOST COMPOST COMPOST!
One Car & More Cycling
We went down to one car which means we have to be a little more organised, we are still having to be conscious about cycling or running the small journeys and not jumping in the car.
Pros: Saved a heck load of money on insurance, MOT, tax and repairs. More physical activity. Have to rely on others for lifts sometimes*. Learn to better distinguish needs and wants.
Cons: Can’t always make everything work that we would like to. Have to rely on others for lifts sometimes*.
* This can be inconvenient but it is great for community!
We now have milk delivered by a milkman.
Pros: Really nice milk. We know where the milk comes from and how the cows are treated. We’ve reduced our intake, once it’s gone, it’s gone! So although the milk is slightly pricier, we’re spending the same.
Cons: It seems the jury is still out on the carbon impact as it is quite complex with regard to centralised vs decentralised delivery, glass production and reuse vs plastic production and reuse. We perhaps wouldn’t have considered this as an option unless our neighbours weren’t already taking deliveries.
Mooncup & Cloth Sanitary Protection (potential TMI post!)
This felt like a big deal and sacrifice to Freya to change. One of her friends repeatedly said – “Try it! You won’t look back! Honestly!”…and she was totally right! Freya now shudders at the thought of using tampons and the chemicals she used to put inside her body when using them, not to mention the risks of toxic shock syndrome! Freya prefers to use panty liners daily (she did put a TMI warning on this post!) and switched these to cloth washable ones.
Pros: No chemical exposure (even disposable panty liners contain chemicals) and no waste. We’ve definitely saved money. Between cloth panty liners and the mooncup, nothing more is needed. A mooncup costs £20 which doesn’t take many periods to pay for itself. Freya quickly got used to both the mooncup and cloth panty liners & couldn’t feel them at all. If positioned correctly, there’s no leakage. The mooncup only needs emptying every 12 hours and holds loads on a heavier day. The panty liners are still washing well over a year on.
Cons: Initially a bit of a faff learning to insert the mooncup (sorry again if TMI!) and you need a sink to wash the mooncup, so if 12 hours is up when out and about, you need to pop into a disabled loo.
One of our newest endeavours, we’re leaving some of our crops to bolt and go to seed so that we can collect them and plant them next year.
Pros: Get to to see what flowering broccoli and spinach look like for the first time. Save money on seeds. Lower demand for store bought seeds is always good given the nature of their production. We still top up with heritage seed from small producers.
Cons: It’s a bigger risk as they are less likely to take if not harvested and stored well. Can only be done with non hyper-bred (F1) varieties.
Lots of inexperience on this one – someone help us out please!
Update 2022: As an added bonus you get to find out what the plant does if you leave it to go through its lifecycle and they often become home to many interesting bugs which are beneficial to the garden. Our biodiversity has really increased with leaving crops in for 2 or 3 years.
Freya has a real hatred of dish cloths, having read as a child that they carry more germs than a toilet seat. So she’d got quite used to wiping surfaces with antibac wipes! Freya promotes cheeky wipes in her Expecting Antenatal Classes as an alternative to baby wipes. So we decided to give them an alternative use and use them for washing dishes and wiping surfaces. They’re basically small towelling squares that you wash and dry. As soon as one appears a bit dirty or smells less than fresh, we simply add it to the washing pile and grab another clean one.
Pros: No waste and saved us money. Really easy to add to our wash.
Cons: Eventually wear out but they’ve lasted well and those looking particularly ropey have continued their use in the garden/garage.
We cut out deodorants and antiperspirants that came in plastic bottles and contained aluminium, which was destroying the underarms of Jake’s t-shirts. Instead we went for all natural ingredients contained in more friendly packaging. So far we’ve tried Nuud, Ben & Anna’s & ProCoal.
Pros: Nuud; only needs applying every 3 days or so and comes in sugar cane packaging and lasts a long time so does work out to be good value despite the cost.
Ben & Anna’s; Lovely range of scents and does the job as a deodorant, lasts well even on Jake! Both Jake and Tilda now use this. Packaging all cardboard.
ProCoal: Freya’s preferred option. Comes in a glass pot with a metal lid. Smells great.
Cons: Nuud; No Scent.Freya wasn’t so keen on this one, Jake liked it until he was dehydrated and then it failed, we’re guessing the silver ions only offset bacteria so far and concentrated sweat overloads it?
Ben & Anna’s: Freya finds it more uncomfortable to apply, it can be a bit crumbly.
ProCoal: you have to stick your fingers into the pot & smear it on which felt odd initially but soon became normal. All of the above are deodorants, not antiperspirants, which means they don’t stop you from sweating. This took Freya a while to get used to but once she realised she didn’t smell, it no longer felt an issue.
Update 2022: we still use Ben & Anna’s but the others have fallen by the wayside; good news is that Ben & Anna now doesn’t crumble like it once did. It’s worth nothing that Ben & Anna’s is much cheaper through Suma All other cosmetics are now homemade using essential oils and other carrier oils and butters etc – we highly recommend The Healing Power of Essential Oils by Eric Zielinski as a one stop shop for essential oils around the home.
Silicone Bags & Beeswax Wraps
Great for school sandwiches and picnics/travelling. We’ve stopped using foil, clingfilm and single use sandwich bags. Freya made the beeswax wraps and has been gifting them to friends for birthdays etc.
Pros: Saved money as they are lasting well.
Cons: You have to wash/wipe them but that’s really not a chore! Making the beeswax wraps is quite a messy job! Beeswax wraps don’t last as well as the silicone bags.
Henna Hair Dye
Freya felt she’d gone back to the 90’s when she decided to make this change as it’s what she originally used when dying her hair as a teenager!
Pros: All plant based – no chemicals. Involves no plastic bottles etc. Seriously cheap! A block of henna costs £10 and Freya (who admittedly has short hair) can split the bar into 6 pieces so each time she dyes her hair, it costs £1.66!
Cons: It’s messy! It feels a bit like putting a cow pat on your head! It’s time consuming – it works best if you leave it to work for a few hours. It doesn’t cover ALL greys. It does a good job of covering most of them and Freya is just embracing the fact she’s no longer in her 30’s!
Update 2022: It’s now £18 not £10 – that’s still cost effective at £3 a time but up 80% in a few years… madness!
Cookware (New for 2022)
First off, there is so much cookware out there, so second hand is pretty easy for general pots and pans. We ensure we’re using cast/wrought iron, enamel ware or stainless steel. We don’t use any non-stick monkey business. Even when labelled non-toxic, this just means it’s not on the list of things legislated against yet… if history tells us anything in this matter – they will get on that list in the not too distant future. For more specific cookware such as a giant, flat all purpose pan or a wok we’ve used SolidTeknics through Buy Me Once (who, by the way, are excellent for long lasting, often guaranteed products – these are expensive in the first place, but in the long run you’ll save money for sure). These are single piece of solid wrought iron – they can’t go wrong and come with a multi-generational guarantee – now that’s speaking our language!
Contact lenses – switching to gas permeable hard lenses
As Freya started using contact lenses more and more, she felt conscious of the plastic waste when using single use lenses. The opticians were very surprised that she enquired about the old school gas permeable hard lenses but were very accommodating.
Pros: Very little waste. Definitely saves money in the long run as, if not lost, (gosh we have some stories there already!) they should last at least 2 years.
Cons: Large one off payment (£120). They took some getting used to as they feel very different on the eyes to soft lenses. There are still occasional screams of “owch” as Freya inserts or removes her lenses! Bit more of a faff to clean and soak but this has soon become a routine. The solution needed to soak them contains some chemicals so arguably we’ve traded less plastic for more chemicals but Freya uses these in small quantities. We need to do some more research on this one to really look at the environmental impact of hard vs soft lenses.
Freya has really dry skin and struggled to find a face cream she liked which wasn’t greasy and didn’t come in plastic. She has finally settled on one from Heavenly Organics simply called ‘Organic Lavender Eye & Face Cream’.
Pros: It comes in a small glass jar with a metal lid. It smells AMAZING! You need hardly any so it’s lasting incredibly well.
Cons: It cost £8.99 for just 25g but Freya’s used less than 20% of the pot in 6 weeks and applies it twice a day.
Update 2022: we now make our own using coconut oil and essential oils!
Make do and Mend
So, this hasn’t really been a change, it’s more what both of us have always done. We try to avoid just replacing stuff when it breaks, we like to see if we can mend it (sewing, patching, screwing, sanding, changing components and reading about how to do such things). All of our garden planters and chicken pen etc have been made with discarded materials and if you look around our house you’ll see many a thing propped up, glued, botched together or living it’s life as a different object from the one it started out as. We recently installed a ‘dry well’ made out of drums from broken washing machines. For a long time, Freya has wanted to revamp the kitchen but there was no way we were going to buy new cabinets when the old ones were serving a purpose (just not in a pretty way). We set about re-covering the cupboard doors, moving some shelves around and giving them a revamp, sloshed some paint on the walls and voila a ‘new’ kitchen for less than £50.
Pros: Saves a heck load of money, means less manufacturing of new products, you learn a lot in the process and community is built as we share skills with others (more them helping us than the other way round).
Cons: It takes time and effort. The kitchen revamp involved the use of plastic (nooooooo!) Jake ends up hoarding random things that ‘might come in useful’ – to be fair next door’s scrap table is been turned into a cloche for next season’s gardening efforts! Things never quite work like they’ve been made by a pro.
Update 2022: we used this same philosophy doing up the new place and will look to do so with all our future projects in the house and garden. There obviously will be some new things brought in but only when necessary and only when they have the best shot of outliving us.
Looking at Labels
We’ve been making a conscious effort to read the labels of what we buy and ask questions in shops. Our main goals so far have been to avoid ‘dirty’ palm oil and avoid air freighted foods.
Pros: Its nice to think that one day we may meet an orangutan on our adventures and they will thank us with a cuddle. But seriously, it’s the right thing to do! Buying ship freighted goods is soooooo much cleaner than air freighted – ask David Attenborough!
Cons: We’ve had to just say no to some things that don’t have a ‘clean’ palm oil counterpart or palm oil free alternative. Many non-fresh foods don’t display where they are from and to compound this many shop attendants haven’t got a clue how the goods ended up in the store.
We’ve chosen to cut down our international travel and limit trips to our work alongside development and justice projects and the odd family holiday. We’ve replaced a number of trips with holidaying in the UK.
Pros: Smaller carbon footprint. Saved some money. Taking in more of the wonderful places around the UK – we really are blessed living here!
Cons: Less culturally interesting places visited. The quandary of figuring out how to lead teams internationally whilst doing a good job of stewarding creation and inspiring participants to do so in their own lives with integrity.
Cotton Buds – Bamboo & Silicone
It was simple to switch to non plastic cotton buds and we’ve just ordered washable silicone ones to try and eliminate waste at all from these.
Pros: Work as well as plastic ones. (Yet to test the silicone ones).
Cons: More expensive although if the silicone ones are good, they will save money. (Although they could be a bit gross to wash!)
Tea Bags (or lack thereof)
We moved to plastic free teabags from Clipper which could be composted and then just went to loose leaf (we still have some plastic free teabags for when we travel and for some teas that don’t come loose…yet).
Pros: More compost! Less plastic and less throwing away of useful biomass contained in plastic.
Cons: Some of our teas/fruit infusions still have partly plastic teabags, but they are being phased out too. The Clipper tea bags still came bundled in a non-recyclable plastic bag… why why why?
We’ve gotten rid of disposable floss and now blast our teeth with a teeny tiny version of a fire hose. We got a Marnur Water Flosser.
Pros: Leaves teeth feeling super clean and eliminatesthe one use plastics. The kids can switch it to a less powerful setting which means the whole family can use it.
Cons: Painful when we accidentally turn it on (easily done) and squirt it in our eye. Initially we managed to make our gums bleed quite a bit, but our aim has got better over time (or maybe our gums toughened up?).
We are still wiping our bottoms, just with different paper! Our toilet roll of choice is Who Gives A Crap.
Pros: It does the job! It’s wrapped in recycled paper and has no plastic packaging. It’s not like velvet but it is a pleasant experience as far as toilet roll goes. We’ve tried both the premium bamboo and the 100% recycled paper – the recycled paper is the environmental winner according to WGAC and was preferred 3/4 in our house! The funky packaging brightens up the bathroom, gives you some interesting things to do on the loo and is even pre-formatted to allow easy gifting of a roll for special occasions!
Cons: The lack of a question mark in the brand name has angered some relatives. Boxes of these seem to posses post men to leave them down the side of our house in the rain and so they get wet (WGAC have replaced the box for free when this happens, yay!). It’s cheapest if you buy in bulk which means storing 48 rolls of loo roll! We tend to just decorate the bathroom with stacks of colourful rolls.
Update 2022: Suma released their own toilet paper made in the UK and fully recycled which comes in recycled packaging. Truth be told, Who Gives a Crap is better quality and a roll will last you longer but overall Suma comes out on top in terms of miles traveled and cost. That said, half of WGAC profits go to water aid. Good choice either way!
We aim to eat everything we buy or produce. Old fashioned dinner time rituals actually have a big carbon impact – after all, most of our food is glorified carbon with some nitrogen and other bits thrown in – if we throw it away, we’re buying more than we need and therefore wasting energy. So nothing gets thrown away in our house these days, if we dont eat it the dog does, if he doesn’t the chickens do, if they don’t the worms do, and if they don’t then it’s off to the compost; mainly fruit peelings, bones, used tealeaves and coffee grounds. Used coffee grounds are great as an exfoliant by the way!
Pros: Fun finding out how to use roots and stalks of veg as well as things like carrot tops which are usually discarded. Different angle from which to guilt trip people without a single mention of starving people in other continents… hmm.
Cons: Moaning from small people about eating every scraping of the main meal before being allowed dessert.
Fragrance (new for 2022)
As we’ve already mentioned a few times, we now, more recently, use essential oils for a lot around the house, for making cosmetics, animal care, plant care and more generally for aromatherapy and health (things to help with sleep, to help energise, to help decongest… a long list of things). We’ve learned a lot from The Healing Power of Essential Oils as well as several other courses and resources.
Our home is now scented using an essential oil diffuser as well as several clay decorations infused with essential oils. We’ve done away with candles and any other chemical fragrance, we even make our own perfumes from essential oils and organic grain alcohol.
Pros: ability to blend essential oils we enjoy and have specific uses working towards our desired outcome. Less chemicals and hormone disruption in our home. Peace of mind that we’re using substances found in nature and that we’re more likely to be evolutionarily (if that’s a word) adapted to than man made chemicals.
Cons: expensive outlay initially but you can build a collection of oils slowly starting with less expensive ones and over time we’ve seen how well they last (with the right care) and how many other products they can replace along with a few other key ingredients such as carrier oils, some alcohol and vinegar. Extraction method’s impact on the environment and raw substances used; a tricky one we’re always trying to find out more about and ensuing we buy organic from well reputed sources (ecodrop & naissance usually) with the highest regard for the planet.
Things still to do:
Solar & Wind Power (and less needed)
We’d love to be able to run our house on electricity that is generated on the property. This is perhaps just us being a bit fanciful and hippy-self-sufficient-esque. Hopefully this will be unnecessary if our nation’s energy continues to reform and go fully green.
Update: since moving we’re looking at ways to passively heat the house for most of the year and then rely on other powers only when necessary and even then to have them produced ‘on-site’.
More Compost & More Plants
Because Jake’s a geek!
Who wants to wash up anyway? We plan to make our own dishwasher tablets using non chemical ingredients and are holding out for an A++ dishwasher that’ll fit into the house somehow.
Lots more big stuff and even more small stuff that we’re probably blind to – so if you’ve got ideas please do let us know!
``Be the change you want to see in the world`` (Ghandi)
Most of the changes we need to make, we know we need to make. The difficulty comes in actually making those changes and getting them to 'stick' long-term. That's where a coach comes in.
Jake Mahal is a Primal Health Coach & Habit Change Expert here to guide you toward great health for you and great health for the planet. Book a free People and Planet Strategy Call today to see if Whole Life Health is right for your and start your journey towards habitual hopeful living.
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