environment

Should we all be eating insects?

It’s no secret that we are not using the earth’s resources sustainably, meaning that if we do not change our current habits drastically, the world will be a very different place in the not too distant future. And not in a good way as our supply won’t be able to meet the demand.

The positive news is that a large number of both industries and individuals are becoming more aware of the seriousness of our negative progress, and therefore changing the way that they use natural resources.

Our meat consumption is a huge player in this topic, and as a result, some businesses have even begun implementing a ‘meat-free Monday’ or other meat reduction plans. But is this enough, or is it simply the epitome of ‘too little too late’? However, despite some shocking revelations about the rate that we are using the earth’s resources, I always like to remain optimistic, looking for alternatives to save the world, no matter how damaged it may seem.

A relatively new idea that I recently came across is ‘entomophagy’, which is defined as the human use of insects as a food source.

Whilst this might seem like a bit of a crazy idea for us, two billion people across the world currently already include insects as a food group in their diet. And in fact, you are probably eating insects already and you don’t even know it.

Next time you eat a bag of marshmallows, pink gummy sweets, or in fact anything with pink dye in it, take a look at the ingredients list. If you see the word ‘cochineal’, ‘E120’ or ‘carmines’, you are eating insects. These processed and powdered cochineal bugs are known for producing a beautifully rich dye which means that manufacturers can legally write ‘no artificial colours’ on the packaging.

And if the idea of eating insects still sounds alien to you, let me take you back to the late 16th century, when the potato was first introduced to the Old World by the Spanish. People thought that eating potatoes was a crazy idea as they were seen as very creepy novelty items, whereas today eating potatoes is as normal as eating bread, rice, and other common everyday staple foods. So will insects be the new potato of the 21st century?

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Could insects really be a substitute for meat?

There are currently over 1,900 species of insect that have been recorded for food use around the world, including beetles, caterpillars, wasps and ants. And just like you would with your current food items, insects can be cooked in a variety of different ways with a variety of different spices to flavour them further. In Stefan Gates’s book on eating insects, he says, “we need to continue evolving and adapting our food and our diets to sustain the planet’s population in a way that doesn’t create an untenable burden on existing resources, and exploring new food sources is integral to that.”

I think that this statement is incredibly true, and we certainly do need to explore other ways of utilising the earth’s resources in the most efficient and waste-free way if we want to create a healthier planet. According to the UN, by 2050 there are likely to be 9 billion mouths to feed on earth, so unless we explore new ideas we will never move forwards, or know what works and what doesn’t before it’s too late.

Sure, the idea of eating insects is pretty weird, and not at all what your brain and palate are used to, but surely that’s the same when you try any new food? In the Western world we are used to eating, chicken, for example. And eating chicken seems like a perfectly normal thing to do because we have simply grown up with it, in supermarkets, in restaurants, and on our dinner plates. But imagine if it hadn’t been, if we had only ever seen chickens walking around in the wild…surely we would think it extremely strange to eat that feathered bird that walks around and eats corn?

Are insects better than cattle?

Studies of entomophagy have found that there are huge benefits to the practice, and even some that could outweigh those of eating ‘traditional meat’. As previously mentioned, our current meat consumption across the world is way too high to make it sustainable. Something huge needs to be done about this to make enough of an impact, and substituting some of our beef consumption for insect protein could alleviate a lot of current pressure on the environment.

One of the major reasons why meat is not currently sustainable is due to the amount of feed that the livestock need to grow and be a good protein source for us. In comparison, insects are a lot less wasteful, as well as requiring a lot less land space, and in order to produce protein insects only use 50% of the amount of feed in comparison to chickens and pigs, four times less than sheep and 12 times less than cattle.

The livestock industry also currently produces 44% of all anthropogenic methane greenhouse emissions. In huge contrast, some insects produce less than 100 times less methane compared to beef and pork production, whilst many other insects do not produce any methane at all.

Another highly crucial factor in the meat consumption problem is the element of water. As climate change becomes more prominent in farming methods, focusing on water use is crucial. It currently takes 22,000 litres of water to create just 1kg of beef, not to mention the huge amount of land use that is needed for livestock, both of which are dramatically reduced factors when examining insect production.

As well as these land use facts, insects themselves as a food source have huge nutritional benefits. Insects are generally a very high source of protein, as well as being an excellent source of fat including fatty acids such as omega, which are also found in fish and are essential for organs, the brain and bones. Cricket powder contains over double the amount of protein compared to the same amount of chicken breasts, and insects are also packed with numerous micro-nutrients which include minerals and vitamins, and a rich source of iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and sodium.

Whilst the idea of including insects in our diets is still a relatively new idea, lots of studies are finding that it really could be one of the ways forward to save our planet.

What do you think, would you give it a try?

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Did you know about these fantastic alternatives to plastic?

We all know that plastic has become a huge problem. We have seen the horrendous images of huge piles of plastic that have been dumped, the plastic that has been caught around marine life after making its way to our oceans, and generic public bins that have been filled with a mix of recyclable plastic and food waste. But it only takes one brisk walk around the local supermarket to see the huge amount of products that use plastic as part of their packaging, whether that be the plastic around vacuum packed toys, or the plastic that surrounds a packet of plum tomatoes. Plastic is everywhere, so how can we prevent this huge problem? The answer is a simple one, we reduce our plastic intake.

The good news is, with an increased awareness of what plastic is doing to our planet, a huge variety of companies and product manufacturers are working hard to use less plastic, and come up with plastic alternatives for every day products.

Why is plastic such a problem?

Although some plastics may seem worse than others, for example, surely the thick, sturdy packaging plastic that protects electrical products is worse than the very thin plastic that holds a pack of peppers, right? Well, although it is of course better to use far less plastic, all plastic is actually made of carbon, together with other materials, that are all heated, broken down and then built up again, to form a plastic resin that can be expertly shaped to fit any desired product packaging. This carbon comes from oil, which is a fossil fuel and is incredibly harmful to our planet.

The resources that plastic is made from are also non-renewable, which means that our current heavy reliance on them as an everyday product is not sustainable. Together with this, the processes that are used to create plastics are also very damaging to our environment, as they produce harmful gases which pollutes our air, land and water.

What does this mean about the future of our planet?

Plastics on earth have become a waste nightmare, mainly because the majority of them do not biodegrade. This means that instead of disintegrating over time, they instead remain intact, often for an infinite amount of years, before they start breaking down into smaller pieces. This is the reason why plastics are such a threat for our wildlife, both on land and in the ocean.

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What are the alternatives?

Although this may sound like a lot of doom and gloom, if we all do a little, by committing to making a few small changes, together we can achieve a lot.

As consciousness increases around the planet’s plastic problem, many companies are coming up with plastic alternatives whilst maintaining the quality of their original products. This means that you can still enjoy the benefits of using the items that you have always liked, without harming the planet. Below are just a few examples of every day products that now have excellent plastic-free alternatives.

Toothbrushes. Everyone uses a toothbrush, and everyone buys a new one after theirs has worn down every few months. So you can imagine just how many toothbrushes have been produced and purchased since the day that they were first invented. This also means that every single plastic toothbrush that has ever been produced is still intact somewhere on the planet; most likely in the ocean. I recently read a statistic which claimed that 1.3 billion toothbrushes are found in the sea every single year. Hearing this shocking statistic really startled me, and I went searching for alternatives immediately. Since that day I have been using toothbrushes made of bamboo, and even got one for each of my family members, who have been converted too! Bamboo toothbrushes are completely biodegradable, meaning that they just break down without harming the planet. And what’s great is that they work just as well as standard plastic toothbrushes, lasting just as long, working just as well and even being cheaper!

Single-use items. If we write down every single item that we use in a typical month, chances are that a lot of these are single-use plastic items that are easily avoidable if we are mindful. Just one example is coffee cups, which are now also being made from bamboo, are reusable, and some coffee shops are even offering discounts on hot drinks if you bring your own cup. These are becoming increasingly popular too, which means that they are being created in a stunning range of creative designs and colours. What’s not to like? As well as this is the plastic knife, fork and spoon that you get with your takeaway lunch. Next time you’re faced with this, ask yourself whether you really need those items that you will simply throw away after one use? Can you get your cutlery from the canteen at work? Or how about keeping a knife and fork from home in your bag to use whenever you need them?

And of course a major item is the plastic water bottle, of which 20,000 are currently being bought every second! I believe that in today’s world, there is just no need to buy single-use plastic bottles when there are so many great alternatives that come in sturdy material that can last years. And finally, single-use plastic bags. The 5p law in shops has been great for reducing our use of single-use carriers, but there is still a long way to go to eradicate plastic bags all together. With so many great canvas designs for fold-up bags that fit in any pocket, there’s no excuse to ever use a plastic bag again.

Plastic cotton buds. Perhaps not as obvious as other major plastic pollutants, cotton buds are a huge problem. I recently saw a very striking and thought provoking image which showed a beautiful little seahorse, with its tail wrapped around a plastic cotton bud. Whilst cotton buds are another common item, the alternative is really simple. You can now purchase cotton buds that look exactly the same, except the plastic part is made of paper.

Plastic wrapped vegetables. For me, there’s something fulfilling about going to a greengrocers and choosing my own vegetables, as opposed to picking up a multipack of pre-selected greens. Perhaps that feeling is just me being a little weird, but regardless, there is no real need for vegetables to be wrapped in the amount of plastic that they are. From a consumer’s point of view, it doesn’t even work out cheaper to buy multipacks, and by being selective, it means that it is a lot easier to only select the amount of fruit or vegetables that you know you will eat.

As you can see, there are many alternatives to everyday items that do not contain plastic, but work just as well. With all of the information that we now have available, together with the shocking images displaying the damage that our excessive plastic use is doing to our planet, now is the time to step up and make a change. If every single person changes just a few things in their daily plastic buying habits, it will have a huge impact on the future of our Earth.

What are you going to do?

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Are you ready for Zero Waste Week?

Every year the UK produces over 200 million tonnes of waste. With less than half of this figure being successfully recycled, we are still seeing an alarming amount of waste going into landfill, incinerators and even our oceans.

Single-use plastics are fast becoming one of the planet’s deadliest pollutants, remaining in our environment for between 400-1000 years. Instead of biodegrading, these plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles – especially in the ocean where they are subject to friction, salt and UV rays. Plastics then cause havoc at every level of the food-chain with even the tiniest micro-plastics being consumed by plankton. Plastic doesn’t just find it’s way into the food-chain from the bottom however, as countless larger animals also accidentally consume larger pieces. It’s worryingly easy to find stories online of whales discovered with stomachs full of plastic – from the beached whale in Spain who died from ingesting plastic waste, to the 13 sperm whales found dead in Germany with a variety of plastic items in each of their stomachs. Of course, it’s not just whales who suffer, as marine debris has been documented to affect more than 267 species worldwide, including turtles, dolphins, birds, fish, sea lions and many more.

Now take into account the tens of millions of barrels of oil used to produce these damaging plastic items in the first place, and we’ve got a serious environmental problem on our hands.

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We all know that recycling is a great way to minimise our impact on the environment, but there is a growing argument that emphasis needs to be put on reducing the amount of waste created in the first place. By making a few simple changes in our daily lives – such as not using plastic bags, plastic water bottles or other single use items – we can have a huge impact on the health of our planet and it’s inhabitants.

This is where Zero Waste Week comes in. Started in 2008 by Rachelle Strauss, Zero Waste Week is a grassroots campaign aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of waste and empowering participants to reduce waste in their daily lives. As well as helping householders and businesses audit their waste and recycle appropriate items, the campaign also seeks to encourage people to ditch single-use items, or to re-use them in creative ways.

Now in it’s tenth year the Zero Waste Week campaign is hugely popular all over the world, and for good reason. As more and more consumers are waking up to the damage caused by plastics and other non-recyclable materials, there is a growing desire to do more, and use less. Whilst many retailers are slow to warm-up to this trend, there are at least some forward thinking businesses who are shunning the unnecessary plastic wrapping and going greener for the environment.

Zero Waste Week runs from the 4th to the 8th of September, but it’s not about making changes for just one week. It’s about looking at what we waste – be it plastics, food, clothing or household items – and making positive lifestyle changes for the sake of the planet.

As the oft-mentioned 2050 approaches, bringing with it a raft of terrifying environmental predictions, it’s time for significant improvements to be made. Inactivity will only make things worse, and waiting for businesses or governments to lead the way will not bring positive change soon enough. It’s therefore up to each and every one of us to do what we can to reduce the amount of waste entering our environment, and to control what materials we are using in our homes.

Get Involved

Joining Zero Waste Week is a great way to kick-start your journey into a less wasteful lifestyle. Simply click here to sign up to the Zero Waste Week community, and get daily newsletters throughout the week itself, as well as a free e-book and regular updates and tips throughout the year.

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Nothing sacred: oil drilling on Leith Hill

There are 46 recognised Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty spread across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These sites, considered to be some of the finest landscapes in the country, are protected under the 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act, as well as the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act. The apparent purpose of this designation and protection scheme is to ensure that the fragile natural beauty of these areas is conserved and enhanced. In addition, the AONB designation aims to meet the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside, whilst simultaneously having regard for the interests of those who live and work there.

One might assume, therefore, that carrying out exploratory drilling for oil might not be permitted in such areas, yet this is exactly what is being proposed – and is on the verge of being successfully pushed through – at Leith Hill in Surrey.

Not just an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also an Area of Great Landscape Value, Leith Hill is seen by many as the jewel of the Surrey Hills. A great place to hike, cycle or just enjoy some family time together, Leith Hill is an area synonymous with tranquillity, rich in wildlife and boasting some stunning views of the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, it is also an area which has caught the attention of Europa Oil and Gas (Ltd), who since 2009 have been seeking permission to explore the area for hydrocarbons, with a view to extracting oil. Despite Europa’s own claim that there is only a 30% chance of detecting hydrocarbons, the company has continued to file a series of planning applications and legal appeals.

Naturally, local citizens have fought hard to stop Europa, alongside the Surrey Hills AONB Board, the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. In the early stages of proceedings it looked as if Europa’s hopes would be dashed as Surrey County Council refused the initial application. However, in a crushing blow to local democracy and in the apparent “national interest” this was overturned by appeal to the High Courts.

So what now? Sadly, after years of back and forth it seems that Europa may have finally secured the right to carry out the exploratory drilling, pending some final application approvals. What this means for the area could be devastating. Not only does the drilling jeopardise the safety of the local water supply, it could also have permanent damaging effects on the surrounding countryside and the wildlife that inhabits it.

It has been estimated that the project will involve over 1000 heavy goods vehicles having to make their way up the hill to the drilling site which is located near the picturesque village of Coldharbour. Not only is this likely to cause severe congestion and risk road safety, but will also likely cause significant damage to the delicate sandstone banks of the sunken lanes, which are home to a number of highly endangered species such as dormice. In addition, the banks themselves are not only incredibly delicate, but also unique, historic and – most importantly – irreplaceable. Even one collision between an HGV and the high banks could have a devastating effect, not only to the bank but also to the trees whose roots hold the sandstone together in many places. Despite Europa’s claims that their HGVs will be able to pass along the sunken lanes, their simulations are flawed and it is naive to think that not one collision will occur with over 1000 vehicles using the roads.

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As well as a sudden increase to road traffic, a combination of gas flaring and bore hole venting during the proposed drilling will also cause significant air pollution which can have a range of negative effects on local residents and wildlife. As well as badgers, foxes and deer, Leith Hill is also home to a number of bird species, some of which are on the RSPB Red List, meaning that they are globally endangered and that their numbers are in rapid decline. And it’s not just pollution that threatens the wildlife on Leith Hill, as areas of land will also need to be clear felled to accommodate the operation, leading to wildlife habitat loss.

Perhaps most concerning of all are the plans to erect a 35 metre high oil rig, which will stand at twice the height of Leith Tower, making it one of the highest points in the area. Not only will the rig require an aircraft warning light due to its height, it will also be fully illuminated at night, with the surrounding compound being floodlit for security and safety measures. This is very likely to cause havoc for the number of owl and bat species who rely on the natural darkness of the area to carry out their nocturnal hunts. Such a disturbance could drive these creatures away. Not only would that be a great shame for the area, but could also have implications upon the local ecosystem.

With so much at stake you have to wonder, how and why can this project be allowed to continue? The answer, as always, is money. Prior to Leith Hill being selected by Europa Oil and Gas, five other sites were also assessed yet deemed unsuitable. The reasons given by Europa for not choosing either of these alternative sites were wide ranging but in some cases included highway capacity issues and historical and ecological importance. As it transpires, all the reasons given for not selecting the other sites also apply to the site at Leith Hill. The only difference being an existing track-way of compacted hard-standing at Leith Hill which will reduce primary set-up costs for Europa. It seems the historical and ecological importance is secondary to Europa’s bottom line.

In 1945, as the Second World War came to an end, architect-planner John Dower delivered a report to the Government suggesting that certain natural areas required legal protection. As our country moved forwards into an era of optimism and confidence, he recognised the importance of our natural environment, and the joy it could provide for generations to come. John Dower’s report eventually led to the The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which in turn brought with it the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation. These terms were more than just labels though, they meant something. They were a message to future generations that the land we live upon is sacred, beautiful and worthy of protection. It seems that this message goes unheard these days however, as commercialisation and capitalism tear through national parks, metropolitan greenbelts and areas of outstanding natural beauty, with little regard for what gets left in their wake.

What can I do?

The campaign that has been fought tirelessly at Leith Hill is far from over. The ball may be somewhat in Europa’s court at present, but they have still yet to secure all necessary permissions to begin drilling. Thankfully a group of hardworking activists at Leith Hill Action Group continue to scrutinise every planning application that Europa submit, and have been working non-stop raising funds for appeals and inquiries for several years. If you wish to help the cause by making a donation, then please click here.

A Voice for Leith Hill are a community group of local artists, musicians and environmentalists who aim to raise awareness concerning the proposed drilling, and peacefully protest against it via a range of local events. If you wish to get involved with their movement, then please visit their Facebook page.

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Plastic pollution: what is it doing to our oceans?

As I settled down to watch the new Netflix documentary ‘Chasing Coral’, the follow up to ‘Chasing Ice’ I was feeling a little apprehensive about what I would learn. I knew one thing for sure, I was very excited to see the acclaimed camera skills, stunning colours of the ocean, and fascinating sea creatures, but what I would discover underneath all that was the very visual realisation of what is happening beneath the ocean, a place that not many of us fully understand.

Whilst the main reason behind the dramatic devastation of the corals in the documentary was due to coral bleaching caused by climate change, another key influence that is destroying our oceans is plastic. And I believe that reducing our plastic consumption is something that each of us can do very easily, which can make a huge impact. So that is what I am going to discuss today.

Like most people, I knew that plastic is rapidly damaging our planet, I knew that we do not use the planet’s natural resources sustainably enough, and I knew that there are many alternatives to plastic that we are not utilising. But until recently I did not fully understand the full extent of the damage that using so much plastic is doing to our planet. And the major factor that makes plastic pollution so damaging is the fact that it simply does not break down, and actually takes thousands of years for the smallest plastic product to decay.

What is plastic pollution?

When many of us think about the word ‘pollution’ we often envisage gas, fumes and smoke; the type of things that are caused by air pollution from excessive use of fossil fuels. But in fact, pollution is officially defined as “the introduction of harmful substances or products into the environment.” This leads us to understand that not only can an accumulation of any given product become pollution, but also that volumes of plastic have become so high on our planet that they are severely damaging our planet.

The recent news that an estimated 38 million pieces of plastic were discovered on an island almost entirely untouched by humans was a serious wake up call. Henderson Island is a tiny, uninhabited island located in the eastern South Pacific, and despite being one of the world’s most remote places, it was recently found to contain 99.8% pollution plastic, which equals to almost 18 tonnes.

Whilst scientists thought that the fact that this island is located in such a remote part of the world would safeguard it from plastic pollution, sadly this was not the case. Although no people live on the island, it is home to many creatures that are essential to the ecosystem, but are seriously affected by the plastic that has washed up in their home. Hundreds of crabs were found to be living in discarded plastic items such as bottle caps, and even a doll’s head.

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What is plastic doing to our wildlife?

Currently, plastic pollution statistics state that one rubbish truck full of plastic is being dumped into the ocean every single minute. On top of this, when plastic is taken to rubbish dumps and landfill sites, the pollutants that are in the plastics eventually get released into the surrounding earth, which over time affects both wildlife and ground water leading to the ocean for many years.

While we have all seen photos of various fish in the ocean being tangled in plastic rubbish, what we don’t often realise is that every single life in the ocean is affected by plastic pollution. Tiny organisms such as plankton are ingesting plastic, which poisons their system. This then results in a knock-on effect for all of the sea-life that rely on plankton for their own source of food, and so forth down the food chain, even up to the fish that we are consuming each day.

How does this affect us?

Each one of us is dependent on the health of the sea. Our oceans control the weather, climate, and are a source of life in itself. The huge body of water that covers 71% of our planet is what makes our planet unique within the universe. On top of this, our oceans contain 97% of the Earth’s water that is crucial for our survival, as well as being the main source of food for millions of people around the world.  On our planet, just our reefs alone are a source of income for over 500 million people.

What can we do about it?

Many people are under the illusion that because plastic is everywhere, we cannot avoid using it. And whilst there are currently no alternatives to some essential products that we use, there are many small and simple changes that we can all put in place to make a huge difference. Some examples of these are:

  • Use foldable cloth bags when you go shopping instead of disposable plastic ones
  • Don’t purchase items that come with lots of unnecessary plastic packaging
  • Ditch the disposable water bottles and instead purchase a refillable one
  • Be smart, and think ahead. When you decide to get lunch out, ask yourself whether you really need the plastic knife, fork and spoon that they hand out to you. Instead, can you use cutlery from your work canteen or bring in your own?
  • Recycle everything that you can. Look up the type of plastics that your local council allow you to recycle and make sure you stick to it
  • Purchase biodegradable products whenever you can. There are currently many every day items with these sustainable alternatives on the market, from cutlery to toothbrushes.

It is essential that we urgently reduce our plastic consumption, because as Underwater Photographer and founder of The Ocean Agency, Richard Vevers, stated in Chasing Coral, “Without a healthy ocean we do not have a healthy planet”.

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Our Plastic Problem

We have an uncomfortable yet undeniable truth on our hands. We live in a world of plastic. The unfortunate reality is that this man-made material is taking over and is well on its way to drowning the very man that makes it.

We come across plastic in every area of our lives, every minute of every day. It is a convenient solution to allow us to live the fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle we all know so well. But just how convenient has it turned out to be? It seems quite the opposite is closer to the truth. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century and half of this is only used once before being thrown away. We have come to see this indestructible material as disposable. Clever, or not? I believe we have a very serious problem here. Plastic does not break down, it never will. It breaks up. It breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces which are causing havoc in our natural environments and have even made it into our food chain. This is a dangerous reality which is affecting every part of the natural world. Plastic has been found in salt, fish and seafood which most of us consider a normal part of a human diet.

I first came across the magnitude of this plastic problem at university when I became involved in the environmental section of Just Love. I have since been utterly convicted that it is up to every single one of us to sort out this problem we have all had a part in creating.

A small anecdote. I made it into work early one morning and found a coffee shop to do some people watching. I sat in as I thought this way I would avoid the dreaded disposable coffee cup situation. Apparently not. It seems that now, even if you sit in you receive your coffee in a disposable cup! So I find myself in a pickle with this cup on my hands and feeling irritated at the prospect of coffee shops ditching the crockery altogether. On top of this, even as I sat there, 7 full bags of rubbish were carried out and it wasn’t even 8:30am. I am easily frustrated at this issue as it seems clear that we have become so immune to the idea of rubbish. Out of sight, out of mind. Sadly, the reality is not so simple. Having seen the recent documentary film, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ – I cannot recommend it enough – I am no longer ignorant of the truth that rubbish is literally taking over in some places. We are all part of this problem. We continue to demand plastic packaging every time we do our weekly shop of multi-pack peppers and shrink wrapped broccoli.

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My conviction has led me to explore the idea of a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle. Sounds wacky? This is no stylish fad aiming for minimalist white walls and single-stem pot plants. This is a real attempt at combatting a real issue which affects so many people and our planet. It is definitely clear that plastic is chosen for convenience and time-saving. This is hardly surprising as the fast-paced, busy lives which we lead demand as much efficiency as possible and this often leads to packaged items being chosen over homemade zero-waste options. Time is precious, I understand this but our beautiful world is also precious. Therefore, making some homemade brownies, flapjacks or a sandwich to take to work seems like a very do-able step to avoiding the biscuit and crisp packets in the lunchtime meal deal. Also, as a bonus, it’s cheaper too!

I don’t have all the answers and haven’t yet sussed out this alternative way of living,  I’m still walking the walk one step at a time but I would love to share some of the top tips for zero waste living which I have found very helpful. Hopefully this will encourage you to take up the challenge yourself! There are changes we can make in our homes and offices to ditch the plastic for good.

Before you get started, if you’ve yet to warm up to this idea that life is better without plastic why not commit to keeping every piece of disposable plastic for a month. I can testify to what a humbling experience this can be. It certainly opened up my eyes.

So, tip number one: Go for bamboo when it comes to brushing your teeth. Every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists. So that means every toothbrush is still out there somewhere. Bamboo toothbrushes are easily available, inexpensive and completely biodegradable. Win, win, win. (www.savesomegreen.co.uk)

Take two: …but not two disposable coffee cups. In fact never take one again. They are not currently recycled in this country and we certainly do get through a fair few. Get yourself a reusable cup (they come in bamboo too!) and never look back.

Finally: Take the plunge and go loose when you buy your fruit and veg. Only buy the vegetables you need, none of this multi-pack business and save on the food waste as well as the polymers. Bananas have their own skin, they don’t need an extra plastic one to make it home.

There is a lot of information out there on zero waste living and how this can work practically. Have a browse and get creative!

Together we can make a stand against plastic and the problems it causes and begin to halt the suffocating effect it is having all across the world. Our planet is far too precious and we can all play our small, yet significant part, in showing it some love.

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The Virtual Vegan

Vegan, it’s the latest buzz word isn’t it? A fad diet for those who followed Atkins and/or declared themselves gluten-free a few months ago. Those who like to starve themselves for 2 days a week and consume only green smoothies, or for hippies of course.

Not so. Well, not completely so anyway.

I’m guilty of trying most new diets and fitness trends and then failing miserably when I get tired, hungry, depressed or demotivated.

But veganism is different. It’s a movement. It’s about so much more than health and image. I am here to explain why I decided to move towards this way of life and the difficulties I have encountered along the way. One thing’s for sure – there is no turning back!

Let’s start at the beginning. I am certainly no stranger to tofu….back in the 80’s my strict vegetarian, activist mother was piling carrot sticks and raisins in my lunch box, while my mates were treated to um-bongo and wagon wheels. I felt so deprived……(not really, Mum……just a little).

In those days I was unusual. In fact, I have always been a little bit different. Mainly due to my Mum, who has always stayed ahead of the trend when it comes to consuming ethically – be it food, washing up liquid or packaging. Ahead of the trend = not trendy by the way…..perhaps a better way to describe it is ‘against the grain’.

And, that was part of the problem. Unlike these kids that grow up in super alternative families: live off the land, wear hemp, sing round the campfire, get immersed in a community and grow up the same, I was part of a much more conventional setup.

My mum was a teacher, my Dad worked in sales. We bought stuff from Marks and Spencer and we went to the Berni Inn (a steak house) for a treat. We appeared an ordinary, 2.4 kids type family – aspiring working class to outsiders. My Dad ate meat, so did my brother and I. Meanwhile, my mum’s publications came through the door covered in pictures of mutilated animals; charities asking for donations. Letters were drafted and posted to local MPs and governments further afield about all sorts of cruelty afflicted on animals and humans.

It was all there, but she didn’t shout about it. It was all done quietly, with little fuss. It was only when challenged that her face would go bright red and her chest blotchy as she prepared to defend herself and all that she stood for. Inevitably it would end with her being ridiculed and accused of being extreme.

So, for me, although I always admired her for her conviction to her beliefs and values, I saw a great deal of pressure, accusation and grief and that came with it. I became desensitised to the pictures – to the reality. I didn’t want to be like that. I thought it was okay to eat meat and stuff. I didn’t join in with the others giving my mum a hard time, but I self-identified with my Dad. He was more rebellious in the traditional sense – smoking and drinking etc. – which was far more seductive a role model – especially as a teen!

It’s only with age and experience that I am able to look back and see things more clearly. I have grown up!

My first bout of vegetarianism came a few years back after reading a book called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (2004, Cannongate Books) which has a fierce vegan sub narrative. Her description had a visceral effect. I heard and saw cows crying for their babies as they were separated just after birth. I ditched the dairy immediately….and all poultry and meat. I didn’t understand the environmental aspect back then; but the suffering was enough. And it was easy! My then family (ex-husband, couple of kids) were living with my parents, so mum and I ate the same meals together. She was virtually vegan by then anyway (eating only ethically sourced, local, free range eggs – and she’s never stopped the honey).

Only later, when pregnant and living independently again, did I reach for a burger one day (it was the only thing that didn’t make me feel sick) and it all went downhill from there. I did the same as I had always done before – buried the truth deep within my psyche and returned to cooking spag bol and chicken salads – after all, this was now easier. I was a full-time working mum and it was what the family demanded.

Jump forward 5 years, I find myself divorced and in a new relationship with an open-minded, environmentally-aware and super likeminded fellow. We had talked about vegetarianism quite a bit, but it wasn’t until a do in October 2015 that the fantastic documentary by Leo Dicaprio – Cowspiracy was recommended to us. We went home and watched it open-mouthed. How could we have been so ignorant and so naïve? Animal consumption has grown to record levels worldwide and we are literally killing the planet!

I’m not going to go into the detail here, when so many fantastic documentaries explain it better than I ever could, but there are so many things wrong with the way we consume food. The way we treat animals for our own pleasure is barbarically cruel and unnecessary, and the impact on world hunger, rainforest depletion, global warming and contamination of our seas is off-the-scale devastatingly bad.

So, I do my best these days. I haven’t eaten meat for ages. I decided to have a go at veganuary in Jan this year and haven’t stopped trying since!

The secret to success is support, availability and ease. Unlike my Mum, I am not ahead of the trend! According to The Telegraph (18 May 2016) ‘the number of vegans in the Britain has risen by 360% over the past decade’ and there are many signs that veganism is set to continue to rise – especially among the more ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious younger generation.

Even in Woking there are many vegan options in various restaurants and cafes; a Woking vegan Facebook group; vegan runners and even a festival took place earlier in the year.

It’s so encouraging. And I hope not a fad. Meanwhile, I will continue with my own battles at home. My 19 year old (brought up with the spag bol) demanding his daily animal protein fix (what’s wrong with mung beans for goodness sake?) and my 6 year old struggling to give up her ham sandwiches. Not to mention my step-daughter. She is not happy at all about the vegan switch….although she loved her ‘chicken’ nuggets the other day (“are they real?”, “yes, of course they are real, Ams!”)

Perhaps, they will just be late to the party? After all, mums are not cool. Not when you’re young. It’s only later when you realise they were right all along! Especially when you have a super switched on trail-blazer mum like me. Even my Dad has joined in. He switched to a largely plant-based diet not long ago. So there is less discrimination in the family home now…..and certainly a lot more hummus!

Thanks for listening. I promise you vegan food is amazing. And it is so important we all consume less meat – for the sake of the planet and the other humans and animals we share it with.

To find out more please visit:

www.plantbasednews.com

www.thevegansociety.com

And watch:

Cowspiracy (2014, Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, available on Netflix)

Carnage (2017, produced by Simon Amstell, currently available on BBC iPlayer)

That will get you started….and there is plenty more where that came from.  Join the revolution!

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Going greener: everyday ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. Despite what some climate change deniers may say, experts in the field state that this trend is accelerating.

Global warming caused by climate change is the biggest threat our planet and population faces at this time. Already we are witnessing the early stages of what could be an unimaginable future for our planet if not dealt with today.

Even some of the more optimistic scientific predictions show a sharp increase in global temperature in the coming decades. The results of which will lead to a range of catastrophes including widespread flooding, species extinction, droughts and famine to name a few.

There’s no doubt that the most significant changes must come from policy makers, and that means we must continually apply pressure on politicians to make greener choices. Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement has already been widely condemned, and should hopefully demonstrate to any world leader that going backwards on climate change is unacceptable.

With so much control being in the hands of the few, is there anything that we can do as individuals to help curb emissions and global warming? Thankfully there is. By making a few changes to our everyday lives, we as a population have the power to do our share of good for the planet.

Around the home

An environmentally friendly lifestyle really does begin at home. Some of the most simple things can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint. It’s therefore vital to make conscious decisions around your house.

Replace any regular incandescent light bulbs with energy saving light bulbs. These tend to use up to 80% less energy. The same consideration should be given to purchasing new appliances too; look for labels showing the A+++ rating. This means the appliance is not only better for the environment, but should be cheaper to run than a less energy efficient model. And make sure you don’t leave those appliances in standby mode. On average UK households spend £30 a year powering appliances left in standby mode.

When it comes to your central heating, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a programmable thermostat installed. This makes it easier for you to control the temperature of your home, and thus saves you money whilst also being better for the environment. You can also turn your thermostat down just two degrees in the winter to save a huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions. If you’ve still got a hot water tank then make sure the insulation is in good condition or consider re-insulating it.

Speaking of hot water, if possible try to use it less often. Heating water uses a lot of energy, so it’s best to only use it when really necessary. Try turning down your washing machine to 30 degrees, and only use it when you have a full load of washing. Install a low-flow shower head to not only save on hot water but to save water in general. Take showers instead of baths to really maximise your water saving efforts.

Powering your home

Burning fossil fuels to create energy for our homes and commercial buildings is the leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Everybody knows that in an ideal world we would all have solar panels or wind turbines installed on our properties; but the reality is that it’s often difficult and expensive to do so.

However, in most areas of the country it is possible to switch to a greener energy provider. Sites such as Green Electricity Marketplace allow users to find providers offering energy created using a number of environmentally friendly techniques, and often at a cheaper rate than a standard provider.

It’s not just getting green energy into your home that’s important though – it’s making sure your home is equipped to make the most of it. Swapping old single glazed windows for energy efficient double glazing is a great way to help the planet and save some money. This one does require some investment and it isn’t cheap, but can reduce energy loss by between 50% and 70%. If it really is more than you can afford, then installing secondary glass panels or even heavy lined curtains can make a difference.

It’s also important to consider how much energy is lost through the walls and roof of your property. In an uninsulated home, a quarter of all heat is lost through the roof of the property. The Energy Saving Trust says that “insulating your loft, attic or flat roof is a simple and effective way to reduce heat loss and reduce your heating bills. Loft insulation is effective for at least 40 years and it should pay for itself many times over”. In fact, you may not have to pay for the insulation at all, as a number of energy providers offer this service for free.

Recycling

Recycling household waste is arguably one of the easiest things a person can do to help the planet, and yet many people still fail to do it. On average more than 65% of all household waste is recyclable, yet in the UK we only manage to send around 44% of it to recycling plants. In fact, in 2015 the amount of household waste being recycled dropped from 44.8% the previous year to 43.9%. 

Recycling really couldn’t be easier and is an incredibly effective way of saving energy. For example, one recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours. And 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials.

Remember to re-use those shopping bags too. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency: “Worldwide, as many as one trillion plastic bags are used each year and less than 5 percent of plastic is recycled. In the United States, according to the EPA, we use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly, requiring 12 million barrels of oil to create.”

It’s not just packaging that can be recycled though. Much of the waste that goes into landfill in this country is food waste, which can be recycled just as effectively as non-organic waste. If you have the room in your garden then why not start a compost pile, which is an effective and environmentally friendly way of disposing of a lot of your scraps and peelings. Not everything you throw out of your kitchen should be composted, but what you can compost you should. If you aren’t able to compost at home, many local councils now provide food bins which are collected weekly and taken to be used in anaerobic digestion to create electricity.

Food

What we eat has a far bigger impact on the planet than many might realise. Animal agriculture, for example, is a leading cause of climate change and a greater contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that the entire travel sector combined. A report released by the United Nations in 2010 outlined the need for our population to move to a meat and dairy-free diet for the sake of the planet.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), global agriculture—dominated by livestock production and the grains grown to support it—accounts for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) finds that “18% of global greenhouse gas emissions is directly attributable to livestock production”. Whichever figure you decide to trust, the evidence is clear; continued consumption of animal products is not environmentally viable.

It’s not just the amount of carbon dioxide produced by animal agriculture that’s the problem though. Globally we raise approximately 60 billion animals for food each year. This creates a serious problem with the amount of methane produced by the livestock. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 25 times as effective as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere.

The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy built on this, revealing that “Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years”.

According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): “Chatham House, an international affairs think tank, has called for a carbon tax on meat to help combat climate change. Of course, eating vegan foods rather than animal-based ones is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint. A University of Chicago study even showed that you can reduce your carbon footprint more effectively by going vegan than by switching from a conventional car to a hybrid.”

Whilst switching to a plant-based diet is certainly the best way to combat climate change, it’s also important that you monitor where your vegetables are coming from. Ensuring the majority of fruit and vegetables you buy are locally grown means you can rest assured that your diet is not having a negative effect on the planet. By also eating as seasonally as possible, you can avoid the energy used shipping out of season produce to your area.

Transport

The transport sector may not be the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but it certainly is up there. Despite some truly pioneering inventors working on creating the vehicles that will carry us all in the future, the reality today is that we are still largely dependant on fossil fuels when it comes to running our cars, buses and planes.

It goes without saying that it’s better for the environment for people to car pool or use public transport. The fewer vehicles there are on the road, the less greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere each day. So if you can share, do share.

If you do need to be on the road in your own car, then you can still do your bit for the planet. For many of us, switching to a hybrid or electric car is too expensive to consider, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on making your daily commute more eco-friendly. By making sure your tyres are fully inflated, and that you’re not carrying any additional weight, you can reduce fuel consumption. Also, properly filled tyres last longer which means less of them end up in landfill.

It’s also important to make sure your engine is properly maintained so that it is using fuel efficiently. And if you can make do without the air conditioning being on, you’ll be saving even more fuel.

Whatever changes you make to ensure your vehicle is running efficiently, you are obviously still going to be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, but this can be offset through a service offered on a number of websites. According to World Land Trust: “Carbon offsetting is a process whereby an individual or company takes action to prevent the release of emissions elsewhere, or secures the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide as part of a wider approach to measure, reduce and then offset emissions through impactful conservation projects.”

Conclusion

It goes without saying that many of the most powerful ways to tackle climate change are also the easiest. You can start making these changes right now, and begin having a more beneficial impact on the health of our planet. Without all of us making changes to the way we live, there really isn’t a lot to look forward to. But if we work together and all do our bit, then just maybe we can leave our children a safer, healthier world.

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It’s not easy being green

Hey bullshit, Kermit. Look at us all. We’re positively thriving! But  actually to be fair, 18 months ago I would have said the same. And by green, I mean vegan. Plant based foods. All that lovely vegetation that so many of us miss out on because vegetables seem to get such a bad rap.

Before I became vegan, it seemed like an extremely alien premise. Give up pizza and coleslaw and oh my God halloumi? It all seemed like such a sacrifice and to what end? Having been vegetarian for 20 years already, why would a bit of cheese matter? It’s not a dead animal after all, everyone’s still here so what’s the fuss?

Major misunderstanding on my part; in order to obtain most, if not all animal products, pain and suffering and often death is involved. Upon being given more information about everything, there really was no other option. And I tell you what – green is great!

So what’s the advantage? I hear you cry. Okay, sit down and listen. Advantage plural, please.

Apart from the fact that every time you use an animal, you’re contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and the razing of rain forest and other wooded areas to make way for grazing pastures or crops to feed the livestock,  you’re also contributing to their misery, suffering and ultimately their death.
Now that’s a horrible thing to be funding, isn’t it?

So here’s the other side.

By eating the amount of meat that we seem to think we need, it means that the amount of vegetation we grow on the earth could comfortably feed our entire population.  So why are there starving people on our planet? Because all those veggies I just mentioned go into feeding all those animals rather than providing nourishment for those who are in desperate need. Cows are a darn sight bigger than a human and therefore take in a vast amount more than we do. All those calories grown, just to be fed to an animal to make a minuscule amount of meat. Not to mention the sheer amount of water used to produce this stuff. Other side? Oh no, sorry. Same side.

How about a plus side? Let’s say you don’t mind about animal suffering or the environment. Sounds like you only give a shit about yourself.

If you do, then hey, go vegan for selfish reasons if you’re that way inclined. (It also means that you’ll be  fulfilling the other specs by proxy. Big whoop) It means that you’ll be less likely to have diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia, hypertension, the list goes on. Basically, most preventable diseases can be boshed off your agenda by going vegan. Oh, and you can shed that spare tyre while you’re at it. Bonus!

So there we go. There’s all the reasons why I changed my life for the better. I know the point was that it’s not easy being green, but look around you. These days there are hundreds of alternatives to those things you like. Experiment! Find the ones you like. You know what a vegetable is, right? Well, it’s not just carrots and veggie burgers. It’s a whole new world of stuff that you’ve yet to explore.  Oh, and just so you know, Kermit changed his mind:

“When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder?
Why Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!
And I think it’s what I want to be.”
Muppets – It’s Not Easy Being Green

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