Monday, 25 March 2019

House: Water, Energy and Stuff

I wasn't really thinking about water this week until I heard a news report on the radio which suggested that people should reduce their water usage from 140 litres per day to 100 litres.  Well, I had no idea how much water I used per day, but as it happened, we had just received our water bill.  I did a quick calculation, looked at the figure, and thought, "That can't possibly be right!"  I checked my conversion, checked my arithmetic, and finally looked up 'average household water usage'.  Of course.  The 140-litre figure I had in my head was per person; we were pretty close to the average household figure, at around 350 litres per day.

Image credit: Pixabay


But... 350 litres?  Every day?  That's 35 buckets full!  Imagine if I had to carry all that from a well! 

I really was staggered to find out just how much water we get through.  This fascinating document  from the Energy Saving Trust goes into a lot more detail about what we use it for.  Didn't you always want to know how many people actually shower every day?  Or how often we boil the kettle?  (24 times a week, apparently.)

That short news report has made me a lot more aware of how much water I'm using.  I don't feel like I've done much to change that yet, but it's certainly something to think about.

So, on to the daily breakdown:

Day 11

Install a bamboo toilet seat.
 

Actually I did this last week, but it fits this week's topic, so I'm co-opting it!  Ideally, of course, we buy as little as possible (see tomorrow), but I think this is an example of buying a Good Thing.  The old seat was broken and disgusting.  It was well overdue for replacement.  This looks so much better, will hopefully last many years, and is made of bamboo, which is meant to be more sustainable than wood.

Day 12

Watch The Story of Stuff.  It's a pretty simple animation (sometimes simplistic), but it's a useful reminder of how geared up our society is to keep buying more and more stuff.  And so much of it goes through our lives and into the dump in an alarmingly short period of time.

Day 13

Clean with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar.


Plenty of websites will tell you that these two chemicals are amazing for cleaning ANYTHING.  From my chemist's viewpoint, they're a mild alkali and a mild acid, which is fine but not necessarily amazing. 

I'm ashamed to admit that our kettle never actually has been descaled, so I gave vinegar a go as a descaling agent.  It definitely helped a bit, but it didn't take all the scale off; maybe I'll give it another try.

I also read that you can scrub a kitchen sink with bicarb.  Presumably it's being a mild abrasive in this case, as much as anything else.  The sink looked better afterwards, but it seemed like I used quite a lot of bicarb, and it's not particularly cheap.  I'd be tempted to save the bicarb for baking, and use plain water and a scrubbing pad if I was trying to avoid cleaning products.

Day 14

Measure my shower.

About 8 litres of water

The magic numbers for showers appear to be: a flow rate of 8 litres per minute or less, and a shower length of 4 minutes or less.  I'm pleased to say that mine was bang on target in both respects.  That doesn't leave me much to improve on, but it was encouraging, anyway.  I also discovered that our local water supplier will send you free gadgets to reduce the shower flow or time your shower, so if I'd needed either of those I could have got them from Severn Trent.

Day 15

Help with Waste Week show and tell.




Look!  I got to draw a pie chart!  The boys' school was doing Waste Week this week.  Not only did I send some of our recycling off to them to use for junk modelling, I was also able to do slightly better for Theo's Show and Tell than last week (when I shoved a toy spider into his hand as he was walking out of the door).  I have no idea what he actually said about it, but at least it looked pretty.

Day 16

Look up green energy providers. 

We already have solar panels on our roof, so changing our energy supplier hadn't been a top priority for me.  A quick poke around, though, suggests that green energy tariffs are now comparable to the standard ones.  Our current fixed-rate deal runs out in a few months, so I'll have another look then and see if we can move towards renewable energy.  This is a fairly recent article listing the main suppliers.

This week seems to have been more about information than actual changes made.  In some ways that makes me feel like I'm not achieving much, but on the other hand I'm finding out a lot that I didn't know.  And I thought I was reasonably well-informed!  I'm appreciating the way that this Lent challenge is forcing me to keep thinking about environmental issues - and it's sparked some conversations, too.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Food: Reduce! Reduce!

This title reminds me of a story about the conductor of a choir.  While they were rehearsing a piece, the sopranos persisted in singing too loudly.  Finally he turned to them in despair and implored, "Please, ladies!  Reduce!"

For this first week of Lent I wasn't trying to reduce either my singing volume or my waistline.  Just my meat consumption and kitchen plastic waste.

Day 5


The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution is big on the idea that, while it's all fine saving our own little bits of the planet, what we really need is changes in the big picture - the governments and companies that control how we make energy and what we do with it.  This means making some noise to push them in the right direction.  So I started the week with a little bit of lobbying.

I wrote to our local council to say that I was glad they use locally sourced meat and MSC fish for their school meals, and to encourage them to use their buying power to support better farming practices.   I also wrote to the supermarket I usually go to, to ask if they could stock a wider range of Fair Trade products.  They said they would look into it.

Day 6





Ordered a wooden dish brush, a loofah sponge, and coconut fibre scourers from Boobalou.  I usually use a cotton dish cloth, but we also have a dish sponge, a green scourer and a plastic dish brush living near our sink, so when they die they can be replaced by these non-plastic alternatives.


Day 7

Vegan Day.

I tried to keep the whole week fairly vegetarian (we sneaked in a bit of smoked mackerel one day), but I wanted to try a vegan day too.  Graham and I started the day with apple and chia seed bircher muesli (recipe here).  Effectively it's cold porridge; it was nice enough, but we agreed that the hot version is better at this time of year!


For lunch I had some leftover dhal and rice, and for dinner we had Quorn bbq sliders, adapted from this Budget Bytes recipe.  This is pretty easy, and I knew everyone liked it!  I mixed some cabbage and carrot with bottled French dressing to make a vegan coleslaw, too.  Dessert was canned peaches with vanilla soy yoghurt.

I have to say, having a fridge stocked with almond milk and soy yoghurt feels almost painfully trendy.  It's great that so many people are reducing their meat consumption, but it's an awkward balance sometimes between doing good and jumping on a middle-class bandwagon.  So many people in the world simply can't afford meat, and they don't get designer-label desserts to replace it with, either.  With that in mind...

Day 8

Donated to some ladies from my church who are going a step further than being vegan!  They're just eating beans and rice for five days, to raise money for Tearfund.  Find their JustGiving page here, if you'd like to find out more.

Day 9


On my list was watching the documentary Meat the Truth, but it hasn't quite happened yet.  Hopefully I'll fit that in next week.

Day 10


Remember that we started collecting all our plastic on day 4?  Today was the day that we tipped it all out to see where it came from and what we could do about it.  The boys and I divided it into categories and weighed it. 


Our total recyclable plastic was 560g, with most of that coming from plastic bottles (267g, plus another 94g of milk bottles).  We get through quite a lot of squash - if anyone's got any tips on how to train your kids to drink water, let me know!  I've completely failed on that.

Our total non-recyclable plastic was 257g - mostly plastic wrappers of various sorts.  Cereal bags, bread bags, vegetable and fruit wrappers.  I've cut down on a lot of vegetable packaging by getting a vegetable box for the last few months, but this is full of the kind of stuff that the boys don't like - cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts - so I still buy a few extra bits, including frozen veg.  It's difficult to see how to reduce this much, unless we stop eating cereal and bread!

It was quite alarming how much plastic we got rid of in one week.  Those plastic bags and bottles don't weigh very much, but we had over 800g of them!  Still, the boys are doing "Waste Week" at school, and are supposed to be making something out of old plastic bottles.  They dived into the pile with enthusiasm and much sellotape, and are gradually constructing a castle and a rocket.

In summary, reducing our meat consumption is a lot easier than reducing our plastic waste!  We've been cutting down on meat for a while so usually only have it once or twice a week anyway.  Perhaps if I adopt the same tactic for plastic, it will have the same effect.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Lent Guide to Climate Revolution

Is it me, or is Lent a very stealthy season of the year?  I always think I have weeks to work out what I'm going to do, and then it sneaks up on me and bam! there I am cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and wondering if I actually am going to give anything up, and if so, what, when, how and why.

This year, I felt like something to help the environment would be appropriate.  The Tenants of the King Bible study that I'd done back in the autumn had increased my conviction that this was important, but there were a lot of things that I knew I could do and hadn't quite got around to yet.

I'd seen a link to Living Lent, which suggested six challenges.  All of them sounded slightly unachievable.  I didn't want to commit to something that I didn't actually think I could do.

Then, right on Ash Wednesday, The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution thumped onto my doormat.  A plan started to form.  With some of the ideas from this book, plus some of the things I'd been meaning to do for a while, I would find 40 ways to help make our family more environmentally friendly.  And, of course, blog about it.

The first step was to read the book.

Day 1 and 2

Get and read (quite a lot of) The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker.  This book definitely met my expectations.  The author clearly cares deeply about what kind of world her kids are inheriting, and has devoted her own and her family's life to making it a better one.  But she also manages to keep a sense of humour and fun, not to mention a fair dose of common sense.  The result is a mix of some obvious ways to make your family green (Plant Trees, Used is Cool) combined with ways to inspire your children (Bring On the Awe, Amplify Kids' Voices) and some things which you wouldn't think were related to climate at all (Bury Your Neighbor's Chicken, and my favourite: Chainsaw the Fence).  On this last one: yes, real saw; yes, real fence; and yes, we are not the only people in the world to make a hole in the fence so that our kids can share their trampoline!




Also Day 2

Make a cape for Theo's World Book Day costume out of an old T-shirt.  In the interests of full disclosure, I did go shopping for yellow material, but couldn't find any.  So Graham kindly let me cut up an old yellow T-shirt, and I got to score at least some brownie points for homemade upcycling.  It's dead easy; there are instructions here, for example.



Day 3

Sign and share a Greenpeace petition to encourage the UK government to pass a strong Environment Bill.  There are always loads of these petitions floating around, and whether the government pays much attention to them, I don't know.  But it takes about 20 seconds, and it might help.  Probably a direct letter helps more, but that's also on my list for another day.

Adjust the heating programme.  It's not super-warm out there any more, but it is generally milder, and I knew we probably didn't need the heating on quite so much.  Just hadn't done anything about it yet.  So this was a good prompt to do it, and save some gas.



Day 4

Start a plastic audit.  I've recruited the rest of the family for this one.  We're putting all of the plastic that we'd normally throw away in a separate bin this week.  Next weekend, we'll look through and see where most of our plastic waste comes from, and whether we can reduce it.