It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Wastemas

It’s the season of giving, and by giving I mean needlessly consuming and spending, which let’s be honest is what Christmas has become. I’m not trying to be a party pooper, and seriously whichever holidays you celebrate I hope you have a great time, but try and remember what is important this time of year (and all other times of the year). Supporting each other, being with loved ones and helping those less fortunate.

There are plenty of ways in which you can still enjoy the holidays and reduce waste/ not buy into the consumerism culture.

  1. Think honestly about what it is that you need/want this holiday season.

I had real trouble finding things to ask for this year when my family members wanted to know what I want as a present, and that’s because i’ve rewired my thinking. Practicing mindful living has made me take stock of what is important materialistically in my life, and the answer is not a lot honestly. I live very comfortably as I am now, I don’t need new clothes, I don’t care about the latest gadgets anymore, so what is there to ask for?

How about asking friends and family to donate the money that they would normally spend on you to a charity? If you still want something to open then many charities provide ‘gifts’ this time of year. For example Friends of the Earth are giving out ‘Christmas Bee Saver Kits’ with a minimum donation of £12.

2. Think about gifts beyond what you can buy

  • Many people show their love through well thought out gifts that they know their family and friends will enjoy, and i’m not saying that we should stop that, but there are more ways of providing gifts than spending money on fancy new items.
  • Provide experiences – things such as experience days, trips, lessons etc – one of my most memorable gifts was when my nan bought me a ‘walk with hawks’ which allowed me to spend the day learning about and watching various birds of prey with a group of other enthusiasts.
  • Provide your time – why not gift your loved one with the promise of your time, whether it be the promise of helping them move/decorate, going out to the cinema together, having lunch. If you have children then why not create a little coupon book with things such as ‘a day of play’, or ‘mum cooks with me’ etc (I don’t know what kids like).
  • Make your gift – Some of my most treasured possessions are gifts that were handmade, for example the quilt that one of my best friends made for me for my 18th birthday, or the story that the same friend wrote for me one year. Don’t worry if you are not super creative, just putting the thought and time into making your gift will make it all the more meaningful.
  • Re-gift or buy second hand – Re-gifting gets a bad wrap (unintentional pun), but as long as your not giving it back to the person who originally gave it to you then I don’t see what the problem is. If you think that someone else will get more enjoyment and use out of something than you, and as long as it’s in a decent condition why not re-gift it? Also, look in charity and thrift shops for your gifts before buying new, you could find something extraordinary and you’ll be helping a good cause while you’re at it.
  • If you buy, buy local – Finally, buying new gifts should be a last resort in my opinion, but if you’re going to buy new then patronise your local businesses before you give your money to giant multinational corporations. The quality of the gift will often be higher because they have more to lose from shoddy workmanship, and the conditions in which the product is created will often be better because things are normally locally sourced and not from sweatshops.

3. Use this time to think of others

Why not donate your time/money/unneeded items to those less fortunate this holiday season? If you can’t do all three that’s fine but look for things to help out with.

  • Time – volunteer at a soup kitchen, help hand out blankets and food to the homeless, invite a lonely older person to your house for Christmas dinner (there are charities that will put you in touch with people who want that, don’t just pick up a random pensioner off the street). There are plenty of foundations that you can join that really need the extra help (all year round but especially during the cold months).
  • Money – make a donation to a charity, give money to the next homeless person you see (or if you don’t want to give them money then buy them a hot meal). But be vigilant about which charities you support, the Salvation Army will be making the rounds again this holiday season however I will personally never donate to them due to their harmful, anti-LGBT rhetoric and archaic values.
  • Unneeded items – many charities offer donation boxes for the homeless and the poor all around the world, why not check your cupboards for unneeded canned goods, toiletries (seriously sanitary towels etc are a godsend for these things), and even children toys. This is a great time to teach your kids about giving to those less fortunate and about how fortunate they themselves are. My old school used to do a christmas shoebox exchange where each child filled a box with old toys etc which were sent off to children in the third world.

How you can help:

Here are some links to various charities with advice on how you can help out this holiday season.

Money:

  • Friends of the Earth and their ‘Bee Saver pack’ – giving you the tools to help save the bees
  • KidsOut and their ‘Giving Tree’ – helping children who have escaped domestic violence
  • Unicef and their ‘Inspired Gifts’ – providing lifesaving supplies to children and communities around the world
  • Savethechildren and their ‘Virtual gifts’ – life changing gifts for children in third world countries
  • Refuge and their ‘Christmas gifts’ – give a christmas present to a woman or child that has escaped domestic violence
  • WWF and their ‘adopt an animal’ – protect an endangered animal and get a cuddly toy
  • Centrepoints and their ‘More than a gift’ – buy a homeless person christmas dinner, a gift, or a bed for the night
  • Impact and their ‘gift tokens’ – help restore a persons health and improve their life through medical funding

Time:

  • Crisis at christmas – volunteer to help run one of Crisis’ homeless centres, from cooking to counselling there is plenty that you can do
  • Age UK’s ‘telephone befrienders’ – Age UK are looking for people to have a 30 minute chat with a lonely older person once a week. Seriously just 30 minutes a week.

Unneeded items:

  • Local foodbanks – you can find out what is needed at your local food bank and help take part in the ‘reverse advent calender’ where you donate an item of food everyday in the run up to christmas.

Low Waste Learning

One of the last things you may be thinking about as you prepare to go to university, whether you are going back or heading off for the first time, is reducing your waste. But i’m here to tell you that not only can it be relatively simple but can save you money as well, which as a student is something that will definitely be on your mind. These few tips that I learnt from my uni days should definitely come in handy for those first few weeks of settling down.

1. Don’t take everything

One of the mistakes I made when I first headed off to uni and moved into my shared flat was bringing everything that I could think of. Not only did this cost me more money than I needed, multiple trips to pick up crockery, cooking equipment etc. but it was also unnecessary. Most of my new flat-mates had done the exact same thing which meant that we had every cupboard in our kitchen crammed full with more pots, pans and plates than any of us needed to use.

Most university’s will have a day within freshers week where you can buy the things that you need at rock bottom prices, things that have been donated by students the previous year. When I went off to do my Masters and moved back into student accommodation with a new set of flat-mates, we did just this. I already had most of the things that I needed but my flat-mates didn’t, and we managed to get all of it for around £20 per person.

If you do go this route then please remember to donate anything that isn’t broken back to the university to help the next set of students when you leave again.

2. Freshers fair

You may think that the freshers fair is just where you go to pick up free pizza and sign up for societies but it is also a great place to stock up on free stuff. Most stalls will offer free stationary such as pens, pencils, rulers etc. (seriously I don’t think I used anything other than my student finance and Arriva travel pens that I got from the fair the entire time I was at uni). You can also stock up on tote bags which are great to use when shopping because they don’t incur the 5p charge that plastic bags do and you can reuse them for years.

A few other gems that I have picked up during freshers include: A thermos, a money bank, calendars, and so many money off vouchers that I think I lived off of free pizza for about a month.

Also don’t be afraid to go each year, yeah it’s called freshers fair but you don’t have to be a fresher to get free stuff.

3. Textbooks

Now this one depends on which subject you’re taking. For me textbooks were a waste of money as scientific books are basically out of date as soon as they’re published, and I used online journals for all of my papers anyway. My main tip though is that regardless of which subject your taking don’t buy your textbook right away, wait until you know whether or not you actually need to use them more than once. Until then the uni library often has copies or you can share with friends.

If it comes down to it and you have to buy a copy for yourself try abebooks.co.uk. This website is a godsend, it has a massive list of textbooks for incredibly reasonable prices. I’ve already said that I didn’t buy textbooks for my course, but I did have to buy some animal identification books for a field course module that I did, the book that I bought cost me £6 from abebooks, whereas everywhere else it was a minimum of £25.

Also if, like I said earlier, you find yourself using journals more than physical books you may run into the issue of the ‘paywall’. Most universities have access keys to the larger online journals but if there is a specific paper that you need for an assignment then email the author of that paper. The authors are often more than willing to send you the whole paper for free as they don’t get paid by the journals for access. Literally all of the money that you will spend getting past the paywall goes to the journal and not to the academics themselves.

4. Low waste supplies

If you really want to go all out and live as a low waste student then here are a few options for low waste alternatives to common products:

Lunch boxes – when you have a full day of classes you need something to keep you going. Investing in a stainless steel lunch box or linen lunch bag will both save you money and help reduce waste. By bringing food from home instead of eating out you reduce the chances of impulse buying expensive food or food that is wrapped in unnecessary plastic.

Drinks bottles – you may be lucky enough to get a free drinks bottle at the freshers fair but if not then invest in a sturdy metal bottle. I bought a Smash bottle for £12 from Sainsbury’s that can not only keep things cold for up to 24 hours but also keep hot drinks warm for up to 12 hours. I’ve actually taken to leaving the lid off for about half an hour so that I can actually drink my tea without burning my mouth.

Stationary – if you’re not sold on stocking up on free plastic pens at the freshers fair and want a more eco friendly option then try companies such as ‘Ecoverte’ for your eco friendly supplies. There are also many companies that make biodegradable highlighters but I find that underlining or colouring in with coloured pencils works just as well.

Earbuds – now this one isn’t necessarily an essential (although to some people it might be) but I thought it was quite cool. ‘Organic Sound’ are a company that make biodegradable earbuds so you can study and listen to music waste free.

Are You Still Watching?

My Top 5 Sustainability and Low Waste Living Documentaries on Netflix

I’ve written before about various documentaries that I have found useful in my low waste journey. I regularly have weeks where the only things that I want to watch are documentaries and as such have been through my fair share of them. I’ve even been asked by my friends to provide them with recommendations multiple times, so I thought that i’d give these recommendations to you guys too. Here are my top 5 documentaries (in no particular order) related to sustainability, low waste living and thoughtful shopping.

Minimalism

I’ve spoken about this one multiple times in previous posts, in fact it’s this documentary that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. Minimalism follows the Minimalists as they travel around America to promote their new book and their lifestyle. It also contains interviews with other people who have decided to reduces their consumption and reject the capitalist lifestyle that we’ve all been taught to strive for. This documentary focuses more on minimalism as a lifestyle that values time and relationships over physical belongings as opposed to minimalism as an aesthetic. Whilst on the surface this may note seem overly related to low waste living, the minimalist lifestyle is in itself very low impact. By buying and owning fewer items you generate less waste.

The True Price

This one may not initially strike you as a low waste documentary but it definitely made me rethink the way that I shop for and use clothes. The True Price is a documentary about the impact that the fashion industry has on the environment and on the people in third world countries. People that have to make clothes in appalling conditions just so that we can spend £2 on a t-shirt that we’re only going to wear once. It forces you to think about your relationship with retail and about how capitalism and constant advertising is affecting the way we live our lives. This documentary was the catalyst for my ‘Impact of Fast Fashion’ post.

Fed Up

Fed Up is a low waste documentary in that it will hopefully make you think twice about what you are buying at the supermarket. Heavily processed foods are everywhere on our shelves and it should come as no surprise that they are one of the main causes of rampant obesity. What may be more surprising is how far companies are going to try and steer us in the wrong direction, so that they can continue to sell us these unhealthy diets. I myself try to go for the organic range, and have even made steps to try and grow most of my own food myself, but I know that that is not an option for everyone, so hopefully this documentary can give you a more solid footing for the next time you go grocery shopping.

Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy takes a similar tone to Blackfish, in that it tackles something that most of us are aware of but don’t really want to think about. The impact that widespread animal agriculture is having on our planet, and on us. From the amount of water it takes to raise a cow for slaughter, to the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by ‘big dairy’ Cowspiracy focuses mostly on how we should cut back on our meat consumption if we want to save the planet. Much like Fed Up, Cowspiracy also looks into the impact that our current diet is having on our health, and on the efforts that food corporations are going to in order to hide this from us.

Sustainable

Last but not least on this list is Sustainable. Sustainable is much less of a downer about food and the fate of the planet than the last three documentaries on this list, in fact its tone is much closer to Minimalism. Sustainable follows the rising trend of sustainable farming, mostly in America but in other parts of the world as well. Much like my ‘Go Old School for Low Waste’ post, many of the practices in this documentary are taken from old style agriculture. The dismissal of mono-crops, rotating seasonal foods, focusing more on natural resistances than pesticides etc. It also poses the questions, can we farm sustainably and still provide enough food to feed everyone? The answer that this documentary gives us is that not only can sustainable farming produce enough food to feed everyone, but it can do it much better than current farming practices are.

I hope this list has given you a good starting block of extra material to help you on your low waste journey, or just help you to educate yourselves on alternative ways of living. If anyone has any further recommendations then please leave a comment or email at jade.musto@livinglightergoinggreener.co.uk and i’ll check them out and maybe make another post like this in the future.

Doing Our Part

There has been a lot of talk in the UK about trying to reduce our single use plastics. And whilst I am happy that environmental issues are becoming more of a talking point in politics, mush of the proposed legislation is, lets just say, misguided. The main policy that the UK government is trying to put through is a ban on plastic straws.

The issue with a blanket ban on plastic straws is that they are vital to many in the disabled community. Plastic straws were first invented for the disabled community and, much like fidget spinners, were co-opted by the rest of society to the point where its become a problem. I’m not saying that plastic straws don’t pollute the environment because they do and I greatly urge everyone who doesn’t need to use them to stop using them. In fact if you want a good alternative to plastic straws then why not try our ‘Strawsome glass straws’ available in the living lighter store.

Now like I said, plastic straws do pollute the environment but there are plenty of other plastic products and other rubbish that do even more harm. In fact a recent study found that straws are the 8th most common type of rubbish found in the ocean/ environment in general. The products found more regularly include cigarettes, plastic bottles, plastic bags and food wrappers. In fact, volunteers from a recent costal cleanup said that they ‘found enough containers and food packaging for a person to get takeout for every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, for the next 858 years!’

The take home message of this post I guess is that we can all find ways to reduce our waste, ways that don’t throw less abled people under the bus. Overall I think that we should all start looking at environmental activism and consciousness in the same way that the majority (I hope) of people look at vaccines. Everyone who is able to give up plastics and wasteful practices has to, so that those who can’t can still benefit.

Go Old School for Low Waste

There are certain things in the supermarket isles that appear to be packaged to death. ‘Fresh’ fruit vacuum sealed despite already coming with a natural protective layer, or crackers wrapped in plastic and then also packaged in a cardboard box. In comparison there are some things that on the surface don’t seem to have excess packaging, like milk or eggs, however at the end of the day packaging is still packaging, especially when it’s plastic. But they have to be kept in something right?

However the plastic bottles that milk comes in still constitute as waste, waste that’s destroying our environment at an alarming rate, and it’s not something you can easily reuse so at the end of the day it’ll still end up in the bin.

But there is a way to cut down on even this kind of waste, and that’s to go old school with it.

A few days ago my mum was visited by a milkman from our local dairy. That’s right daily milk deliveries are still a thing, and they do more than just deliver milk. We’ve signed up for both a milk delivery and an egg delivery to start out with. There are also plenty of other options such as orange juice, broken biscuits and compost that you can have delivered at the same time. The best part about this, other than supporting your local businesses and not giving all of your money to massive multinational corporations, is that all of the packaging gets reused!

Take the milk for example, it’s just like you see in the old movies, it comes in little glass bottles which you leave on the doorstep, which the milkman takes to be refilled when he comes to deliver your next set. The boxes that the eggs are delivered in can also be left with the empty milk bottles to be reused. This is also a great way to avoid excess, you sign up for a certain amount of deliveries each week, it’s easy to change if you realise you’re not using as much as you’ve ordered, and if you go away you leave a note in the empty bottle asking to skip a delivery. This also means that its a few less things that you need to think about when you do your food shopping. No going to the store and then realising that you’ve forgot to get milk once you’ve lugged all of that shopping home.

Also something you may find surprising is that the price isn’t all that different from supermarket milk, we pay 75p for a pint of milk which we have delivered twice a week. You also have the added advantage of knowing exactly where your food is coming from. Supermarkets most often get their milk from large dairy chains which utilise massive herds that are often kept in crowded conditions. Local dairy’s and farms are often smaller scale and due to this have a higher incentive to look after their herds. Your food is also much more likely to be fresh as it hasn’t travelled as far as some of the supermarket stock.

Also as someone who is lactose intolerant I have found that they provide milk alternatives, such as soya milk, these also come in reusable glass bottles. However substitutes such as rice milk and almond milk are currently not available, but these are relatively easy to make at home which would also help to solve the packaging issue. If anyone is interested in a good milk substitute recipe then leave a comment and I’ll make a post on how to soon. The fact that my local dairy doesn’t offer these substitutes doesn’t mean that your local dairy won’t, and if more people ask for it then the more likely it will be that dairy’s and farms are to see this as a viable option for them to offer in the future.

Why not contact your local dairy or if you live in the country like me, your local dairy and surrounding farms, and see if you can sign up for regular fresh deliveries.