What does ‘sustainable’ even mean?

It’s rare that a term becomes such a key part of common lexicon in such a short space of time as sustainability. The term itself is derived from the Latin ‘sustinere‘, meaning ‘to maintain’, ‘to hold’ or ‘to support’. The word can now be found used widely in policy, commerce and economics, usually in a way that pertains strictly to environmental sustainability

It’s become widely used in the last 30 years in spite of (or perhaps because of) its multitude of potential definitions. For example, this catch-all term can be found explaining why you should buy a new dress, why a city council should build new properties or why a brand’s coffee is better than other coffees. But what does it actually mean?

Around 30 years ago, the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future, charting a path for development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is essentially our current definition of environmental sustainability. However, the term has since come under fire for lacking any unified, definitive or quantifiable meaning – basically, it means nothing.

There is no doubt that the fashion industry requires movement in a direction that manages its demands on the environment without compromising what’s available for future generations. No one would argue that the fashion industry, responsible for 10% of global emissions, doesn’t require more investment in ‘sustainability’, but without any quantifiable definition of the term, what does this look like?

Various other terms within many industries are verified using third-party certifications and accreditations, meaning that a brand or business has to prove it is doing something to be able to use the term. The Soil Association, for example, is a UK-based charity that regularly reviews manufacturing processes throughout the supply chain to ensure a business is producing organic products. You cannot use the term ‘organic’ without being certified. The Global Organic Textile Exchange (GOTS), does the same for textiles, showing the buyer that the products throughout the supply chain have been verified by an external body as organic.

One issue with sustainability within the fashion industry is that almost all accreditations are voluntary. Rather than having regulatory standards, similar to those within the food industry and mandatory energy labels on EU white goods, accreditations are seen as ‘optional extras’, often used as a marketing tool rather than a baseline standard.

Because of this erosion of state power, brands and organisations within the fashion industry looking to become more ‘sustainable’ are left in a state of ‘choice paralysis’; there are a multitude of private-sector accreditations which all claim to provide certification of ‘sustainability’ in marginally different ways. And of course, because they’re private sector, all claim to be slightly better than their variants, yet none are government regulated. This isn’t to say they don’t all provide some benefit – many do in considerable ways – it’s just that the whole industry is open to confusion and lack of regulation, to the point that the consumer has a very hard time understanding what they’re buying into. 

Various voluntary initiatives available to the textiles industry – but by no means all of them

So what can we do?

With WOVN’s 2020 consumer report showing an 84% increase in the use of terms such as sustainable, ethical, Fair Trade and eco-friendly and an increased desire to shop from brands seen as ‘sustainable’, it’s important now, more than ever, to understand what this term really means. As brands cotton on to this fact, there’s an increasingly opaque arms-race to appear more sustainable, where being truly environmentally conscious is almost secondary to appearing as such.

There have been calls to incorporate ‘Carbon Labelling‘ on clothing, but of course being sustainable isn’t about simply releasing as little carbon as possible (in the same way that the health of a food item isn’t about being as low calorie as possible), but also things like wastewater reduction, ceasing the use of harmful chemicals, improving labour standards, using renewable materials, reducing waste textiles and so much more. While innovative, labelling like this would only solve a proportion of the problem, and potentially just become another method of greenwashing.

Accreditations will play an important role in the fashion industry’s road towards becoming more in balance with the environment, but there are serious changes that need to happen, including regulation of the regulators. Consolidating numerous similar accreditations into larger, stronger and more rigorous ones would be a powerful first step. 

Secondly, as a globalised industry, fashion requires international regulation. The majority of the textile industry has outsourced its negative environmental and social impacts to the Global South, affecting the people and habitats that can least afford to protect themselves, all the while making masses of money for the corporations residing in the Global North. This inequality simultaneously exacerbates the issues and hides them from view of the consumer. This means that it’s hard to know how what you’re buying is impacting the people who made the clothes, for better or worse. Because of this, we need international regulations throughout the supply chain, protecting both the environment in the world’s most biodiverse areas and those most affected by the industry’s indiscretions. 

In the meantime, companies must be more transparent about their supply chains, allowing the consumer to make their own decisions about what is ‘sustainable’ and what is not. After all, no brand is going to be perfect in all regards, certainly not while industry accreditations are such a minefield. It should be possible for the consumer to decide what matters most to them, and be able to accurately measure up brands to this standard. It is important that this doesn’t automatically disadvantage those choosing to become more transparent; while transparency may highlight areas requiring improvement, brands that choose to avoid transparency for fear of what it may show up should be penalised beyond those showing up less favourable elements within their supply chain. This is important because transparency is the first step towards accountability. Brands that doesn’t show the former will never have the latter.

Consumers, while requesting greater transparency and action from the worst offenders, should also realise that no amount of sustainable production will counteract buying clothes we don’t need. Buying less overall, buying secondhand, fixing what we already have and finding new homes for clothes we no longer wear will always be better than shopping, even from ‘sustainable’ brands. 

Further up the chain there should be incentives and clear direction for brands wanting to do better. This direction should be passed on to suppliers, with brands using their purchasing power to push suppliers to be better, and workers using unions to effect chain from the ground up. Large brands and conglomerates especially have huge amounts of power to effect change, and it’s time they were forced to do so. 

Over over 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill in the UK each year – no matter how sustainable the brand, this can never be environmentally friendly.

TL;DR

  • There are many steps available to brands looking to become more sustainable, in whichever way they choose to interpret the term.
  • However, without quantifying what sustainability actually means, it’s going to be difficult for the fashion industry to ever reach the goal of being ‘more sustainable’ in any meaningful way.
  • Currently there is a mishmash of private-sector accreditations and certifications all with overlapping goals being regulated with varying degrees of success. Without unifying these standards and consolidating the accreditations that exist, it will be hard for consumers to be able to assess which brands are truly sustainable vs which are using accreditations as a facade.
  • As the fashion industry is a global one, it requires global regulatory bodies, which currently don’t exist. Currently it is beneficial for brands to outsource their labour and environmental harm to the Global South, which doesn’t have the resources to protect itself. International regulation could limit this harm.
  • In the meantime, brands should improve transparency of their supply chains to allow consumers to choose who they want to buy from. Brands should be congratulated for improving transparency, although not at the expense of action which is the obvious end goal (H&M is one of the most transparent brands but also one of fashion’s biggest polluters – transparency can’t come at the expense of action).
  • Consumers have the power to request greater transparency from brands, and also to stop buying from the biggest polluters. Shopping small businesses is a great place to start, but we should only buy what we really need. No amount of sustainability will make up for purchasing a wardrobe of clothes you never wear.
  • Large brands have huge amounts of purchasing power and are in a strong position to effect change. It’s about time they did so.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to read more, there is a great report on palm oil, fishing and textiles, all of which suffer the same lack of unified regulation – you can read it here. If you regularly read and enjoy my articles, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.

10 Veganuary myth-busters

January 1st has marked the start of Veganuary since 2014, when the non-profit of the same name started encouraging people to try a plant-based diet each January. During the 2020 campaign, more than 400,000 people signed up to the Veganuary pledge, while more than 600 brands, restaurants, and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and over 1200 new vegan products and menus launching in the UK alone.

In 2019, a scientific report released by over 100 scientists shared that plant-based diets can help fight climate change, showing that the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy is directly fuelling global warming. Diets high in meat and dairy are on average significantly more warming than diets without red meat, diets with no meat at all, and vegan diets. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, with meat and other animal products being responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink. So for someone looking to reduce their carbon footprint, choosing a more plant-based diet is a great place to start.

When looking across the board, almost all plant-based foods have lower GHG emissions than almost all animal products

Health-wise, vegan diets are richer in many nutrients due to the increased plant matter, and those who choose a plant-based diet (vegetarian or vegan) are less likely to suffer from heart disease. There are lots of other health benefits of veganism too, but also plenty of things to consider, so read on if you’re thinking of going vegan, whether for one month, one year or the rest of your life!

1. Don’t forget supplements

If you’re planning on only being vegan for a month, and already eat a diet heavy in plant-based foods, the chances are you’d be really unlucky to become deficient in anything (unless you already were to start with). However, if you’re looking to become more plant-based over the long-term, it’s important to understand what supplements you need, such as B12, which is recommended for all vegans. Check out this blog post for all the recommended supplements.

2. Consider not doing veganuary….

… But instead moving to a more plant based diet over the course of a few months. It’s not as ‘exciting’ or ‘glamorous’ as a difficult challenge, but it’s my belief that slow change is usually more sustainable and beneficial than immediate change. Unless you ate a diet heavy in plant-matter prior to switching, you may suffer gut issues (thanks to the high-fibre content of most vegan diets), and slowly cutting out various animal products gives you time to reintroduce new foods and meals to your repertoire, reducing the shock to both your body and your culinary skills!

3. It’s not about cutting things out

Many people I know who have struggle with a plant-based diet are those who have seen veganism as a way to cut out half their diet (myself included, when I first tried it aged 15). Cue sluggishness, grumpiness and constant hunger. It’s true that veganism likely isn’t for everyone, but you can avoid the above ailments by introducing, rather than just cutting out, foods. Meat serves as the protein source in many meals, so this must be replaced by a number of other substitutes, such as pulses and/or meat substitutes. There are lots out there, so experiment! Find what works for you, and most of all, make sure you’re eating enough – plants are high in fibre and low in calories, so you’ll likely need to eat more volume to get enough calories from your diet. Don’t let yourself go hungry.

4. Vegan does not necessarily mean healthy

It’s perfectly possible to eat a vegan diet and gain weight. It’s also perfectly possible to eat a vegan diet and end up considerably less healthy than before, because veganism does not equate to health. Nowadays especially, it’s so easy to get confectionary and desserts that are vegan – and despite the fact that they’re vegan, a cake is still a cake. As with any diet, becoming plant-based requires thought, planning and attention to nutrient density of foods. By all means eat the cake, just don’t fool yourself into believing it’s healthy just because it’s vegan.

5. Soy won’t give you moobs/breast cancer

Another concern about turning vegan is that 50% of your diet will be soy, and soy gives you breast cancer. Except it won’t, and it doesn’t. Soy is a common ingredient in a lot of meat substitutes, plant-based milk and foods such as tofu and tempeh. However, it’s not as prevalent in most vegan diets as you might think, and has no link to breast cancer or ‘feminising’ effects on men. There is a lot to be said for varying your diet and mixing up your sources of protein, but in terms of health, soy is a complete protein, low in fat, relatively cheap and pretty damn good for you. Unless you’re allergic, you don’t need to avoid it.

The other concern about soy is that it leads to deforestation. While this is true of some soy products (deforestation linked to soy products is responsible for 29% of Brazil’s GHG emissions), it is worth remembering that around 75% of global soy production is actually fed to livestock – in far greater quantities than we consume it. If you want to reduce your contribution to soy deforestation, ironically going vegan could be a pretty effective way to do so. And, of course, vary up your protein sources so you’re not eating it for every meal.

6. Being vegan does not make you the perfect environmentalist

On average, the emissions released by a vegan diet are considerably less than those from an omnivorous diet or vegetarian diet. This is because almost all animal products result in greater emissions than almost all plant-based products, no matter where they’re from. However, some products, namely coffee, chocolate and beer, have differing impacts relating to how they’re farmed (e.g. is the cocoa and coffee grown on deforested land?). In addition, foods such as almonds and avocados are particularly water intensive, contributing to drought in the areas they are grown. However, neither avocados nor almonds are a direct substitute for meat, and vegans and meat-eaters alike are both likely to eat all of the above products – so this isn’t just a vegan issue.

Even environmentally questionable products such as almond milk fare better environmentally when compared to cows milk, so if being eco-friendly is high on your agenda, you’re still better off moving to a more plant-based diet, whilst keeping in mind that not all vegan products are necessarily good for the environment. Bear in mind that eating local and seasonal has numerous benefits and that while very beneficial, going vegan does not magically make you the perfect environmentalist.

On this note, your environmentalism should not end at changing your diet. Veganism has been co-opted as an extremely white movement, but plant-based diets have existed for centuries in other communities, long before making it to the white mainstream. Don’t let your vegan morals end at Joe and the Juice juices and quinoa – follow BIPOC creators and educators on Instagram and understand how the vegan movement currently benefits white people, often at the expense of its historical originators.

A graph showing the comparison between animal products and plant-based products, showing that how your food is grown can vastly alter its environmental impact

7. Consider why

Going plant-based is a great thing to do for so many reasons, but for some people, it can be exactly the wrong thing to do. For example, if you struggle with restrictive behaviours when it comes to eating, suddenly switching to a vegan diet can be triggering and lead to unhealthy behaviours. If you’re concerned, speak to a dietician before trying anything new. As mentioned above, eating a vegan diet shouldn’t be about restriction – it should be about expanding your diet to incorporate a whole range of delicious plant-based foods.

8. Look at other areas of your life

Scientists have said that going vegan is the single biggest thing an individual can do to reduce their environmental footprint. However, there are numerous other ways you can also benefit the environment, from consuming fewer goods overall (e.g. not buying new clothes every week), flying considerably less and moving to an ethical bank. Going plant-based was my ‘gateway drug’ to considering my other actions and their impact – and I’m still learning new things every day! Check out my vlog on some of the best ways to reduce your overall environmental impact.

9. You won’t get weak and weedy

One of the biggest concerns about veganism (at least among the fitness community) is that it doesn’t allow for ‘gains’ and fitness progress. This couldn’t be further from the truth – a vegan diet can certainly be sufficient and even beneficial for athletes – but it is something that you should consider when making the switch. When I turned plant-based I expected either massive gains at the gym or to lose all my strength and endurance over time. In reality, not much changed at all, and the diet provided enough of everything to take me through 2 boxing fights, a marathon, 2 ultra marathons and all my workouts in between. So long as you eat enough calories, ensure you eat a wide variety of foods and supplement what’s lacking, you may see fitness benefits, or at worst, just stay the same as you were before.

This guy was vegan!

10. Remember, everyone takes their time

Once you’ve made the huge step to becoming plant-based, it can be frustrating to watch others choose not to do the same. When you’ve educated yourself on the myriad benefits and made the effort to switch, it’s easy to get up on your high-horse and judge others who haven’t done the same. Getting angry at people, however, rarely leads to positive, long-lasting change – think back to the number of times someone suggested that you try vegetarianism or veganism. It’s likely you didn’t suddenly change your way of life and immediately turn vegan, so why would you expect the same from someone else? People have their own reasons for living the way they do, and trying to force someone into your way of thinking can have the reverse effect you want it to. By all means educate if someone enquires, but I find living my best life and leading by example is enough.

I feel great eating a plant-based diet. I love it for so many reasons, but that’s because I’ve planned it, researched extensively, listened to my body and learnt over the years. It’s undoubtedly the right thing for me. I’m still learning everyday and wouldn’t dream of considering the way I do things the ‘best way possible’; everyone is unique, everyone moves at their own pace and what works for you won’t necessarily work for someone else.

Good luck with your Veganuary or the start of your plant-based way of living! I’d love to hear if you found this useful and if you have any pieces of advice of your own! Comment below and don’t forget to share this on Instagram! If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.

Can wool be sustainable and ethical?

As someone who eats a plant-based diet, I might be considered the type of person who would avoid wool and other natural animal-based fibres from an ethical standpoint. However, as with almost everything in life, I find reality refuses to conform to the categories we attempt to put it in; veganism isn’t always more sustainable than a non-vegan diet, plastic isn’t always worse than glass and organic isn’t always better than non-organic. As with everything, I try to make my decisions based on the evidence in front of me – and as always, the evidence is rarely black and white, and always content dependent. 

Wool is one of the oldest textiles in human history, with clothing made from wool dating back 10,000 years from across the world. As with all products produced today, wool should be placed under heavy scrutiny to call into question its ethical and sustainable credentials, but as with all products, the answer often depends on a myriad of factors. 

How sustainable is wool?

One of the major benefits of natural fibres such as wool is that they are made from renewable resources, biodegradable and require minimal amounts of chemicals for processing. These are all issues that plague the majority of synthetic materials production, alongside the issue of microfibre release – where tiny pieces of plastic are released into our oceans eat time synthetic fabrics are washed. 

However, the majority of wool’s impact comes from the keeping of livestock on land that could otherwise be left wild, or cleared to feed the ever growing human population, rather than livestock (a notoriously inefficient method of feeding humans). The sustainability issues of wool come from the sheer quantity in which we want it, as this leads to large amounts of land clearing and environmental degradation, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. When combined with the eutrophication caused by large amount of animal faeces damaging local waterways, wool is on average one of the least sustainable materials when assessed pre-consumer

However, as with many fabrics, the method of cultivation makes a huge difference to its environmental footprint. Unfortunately the majority of tools used to assess the environmental impact of textiles, such as Higg Index, end pre-consumer, giving only a limited picture of real-world environmental impact. The consequence of this is that short-lived, low quality items are equated with better-made, durable products, simply because of the fibres used. With many fabrics, the majority of the difference in environmental footprint is dictated by the length of life of the garment and the number of times it is worn. This indicates that the consumer has a huge amount of power in altering their own environmental footprint, not only by choosing more sustainable fibres, but also by choosing to buy less overall, and keep what they own for a long time. Buying quality clothing is key to this, and as wool products tend to have long lifespans, the environmental footprint is considerably reduced over its lifespan. 

When you look post-gate at consumer use and end of life options, wool’s sustainability credentials start to improve. During its life, wool tends to need washing much less frequently than synthetic fibres, especially in sportswear as it has natural odour-resistant and antibacterial properties. After its longer than average lifespan, wool is also easily recycled unlike mixed-fibre synthetic garments, providing options for a second or third life. Aside from this, it also biodegrades both on land and in water, meaning that provided it is disposed of properly, it has extremely low impacts after its useful life. 

In conclusion, there are many ways in which wool’s sustainability credentials could be improved, from raising sheep through regenerative farming to methane gas mitigation. However, provided woollen items are worn for a number of years, environmental impacts could be minimal, and reduced further by 50% simply by wearing items more. 

How ethical is wool?

PETA claims that there is no such thing as ethical wool, and there are certainly ethical implications of raising animals for human use. In Australia and some other places around the world, there is a common but inhumane practise called mulesing, the practise of cutting away areas of skin on the buttocks, in order to prevent flystrike. This is often done without anaesthetic and can lead to death, or at least immense pain for the animal. Not only is this cruel, it is often also unsuccessful. The US has also been highlighted to carry out this procedure, through footage released by PETA.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has some of the best animal welfare standards globally, and the country’s Animal Welfare Act strictly prohibits mulesing. Choosing free-range, hand-shorn animals reduces lifetime stress and anxiety to the sheep. Similarly, it is also banned in the UK.

Because of the variation in animal welfare standards globally, it is important for brands to have transparency throughout the supply chain, all the way back to the farms their wool comes from. Without this, it is impossible to know how they are treated in order to choose brands wisely. To help with this, there are a number of globally recognised certifications and accreditations that provide third-party verification of humane and ethical wool production through regular audits. Examples of these include Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)Certified Organic WoolCertified Animal Welfare ApprovedCertified Humane® Label, the ZQ Merino StandardSoil Association Organic Standards and Climate Beneficial by Fibershed. Some of these also look at the environmental impact of the wool too, ensuring minimal environmental degradation in the raising of flocks too. 

On a side note, it is extremely important to understand what type of wool you are buying. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, which are bred to have wrinkly skin to increase wool production. In hotter conditions, this can cause heat exhaustion and extreme discomfort, so ensure you buy your merino from sources accredited by ZQ Merino Standard or the Responsible Wool Standard. 

Angora ‘wool’ comes from rabbits, and if often harvested by plucking the animal, which can cause distress. In addition, 90% of the world’s angora comes from China, which does not have the same ethical standards as some other parts of the world. In 2013, many brands ceased angora product releases, after footage was released exposing the extreme animal cruelty existing in farms in China. Similar footage has been released from farms in France. Needless to say, while it is possible to collect naturally-moulted fur from rabbits for wool, it is hard to guarantee the ethical nature of this type of wool.

Cashmere (including Pashmina and Cashgora), made from goat’s hair,  has been linked to environmental degradation in Mongolia. In an effort to improve its sustainability credentials, brands such as Patagonia and Stella McCartney opt for recycled cashmere instead of virgin options. Cashmere’s environmental impact is roughly 100x that of wool.

TL;DR

  • Wool can be both sustainable and ethical, or neither, depending on where you buy it from, though of course your personal ethics will dictate in part what is deemed ethical. The bar has to be set very high to ensure both ethical and sustainable production.
  • As with most elements of consumerism, the sustainability issues of wool are derived from the quantities in which we consume it, not necessarily the wool itself.
  • Choosing brands that are transparent about their sources and can trace their wool to particular farms is the best option if you want to buy it – there are many places that do not produce ethical wool, and the practise of mulesing is still commonplace. If a brand does not specify no mulesing, do not buy from there.
  • Opt for wool that has been accredited and audited by a third-party certification, such as Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) or ZQ Merino Standard, to ensure its ethical and sustainable production as much as possible. 
  • Alternatively, buy recycled wool or second hand – this is always preferential when it comes to buying clothes.
  • Wool’s environmental impact is dictated for the most part by how many times it is worn. The longer the lifespan of a garment, the smaller its environmental footprint, and this is especially true of wool. 
  • Due to wool’s internal properties, it is both highly durable and needs washing less frequently than other fibres, improving its sustainability credentials. 
  • Wool has better end of life options than synthetic fibres, due to ease of recycling and being biodegradable. 

As with all things, there is no simple answer or perfect solution when it comes to sustainability. We should all be buying less overall and wearing for longer. With knowledge we can call for brands to do better, and choose great quality products that will last a lifetime and beyond.

What are your thoughts on wool? Would you buy it, secondhand or otherwise? Many thanks to Hattie (@hattie_eco) for helping research this topic! Go and check out her Instagram for more sustainability info.

The Ethical Implications of Black Friday

This year’s Black Friday takes place on the 27th November, between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, 30th Nov.

Despite growing concern over the ethical implications of Black Friday, 2019 saw transaction values increase by 16.5% and volume increase by 7.2% in the UK compared to 2018. In the US in 2019, Black Friday online sales beat all previous records, reaching $7.4bn, up from $6.2bn on Black Friday 2018, continuing the exponential upward trend of sales made on Black Friday, driven primarily by millennials

Black Friday is theoretically a great way to boost shop sales made each year – 30% of all retail sales occur in the month between Black Friday and Christmas, giving a much-needed boost both to online stores and in most years brick and mortar stores too. It also allows people to purchase goods they need and would otherwise not be able to afford, such as white goods and electronics. 

But what are the ethical implications of nearly 50% of items for sale being reduced each year for a weekend of mass shopping? How does this impact the supply chain and environment? Despite a slower increase in sales year on year in the UK vs. the US, there is significant harm caused by the surge of sales globally over the Black Friday weekend. 

Where does your money go?

One of the arguments for Black Friday is that is boosts the economy and benefits many brands and businesses. However, the companies most likely to benefit from Black Friday are those with the largest mark-ups on their items, who likely do not have great ethical credentials and who benefit from tax havens, thus not contributing to the economy as much as you might hope. According to ecommerce stats, shops with over $1bn annual sales see a 62% boost in sales over Black Friday, whereas smaller shops see only a 27% growth. In 2018, Amazon, Ebay, Apple, Sony, Currys and Missguided profited the most from Black Friday sales in the UK – these are hardly small brands struggling for profit. Amazon’s tax avoidance has been known about since 2012, as well as their operations which run through Luxembourg to avoid paying any tax in the UK, thus not actually benefitting the UK economy as much as expected.

Small, independent brands have to compete with low prices from mass corporations such as these year round, thus profit margins are miniscule even when paying full price. These companies cannot afford to cut prices further over Black Friday, and thus aren’t the ones benefitting from the increased spending. 

How can they cut prices so significantly?

When Missguided sells jumpers and dresses from as little as £5, it begs the question how much mark-up was on the products before, and how little the factory workers get when a dress sells for that little. In 2017 there were reports of UK garment factory workers being paid £3ph in Leicester – less than half the legal minimum wage at the time – in order to compete with clothing made in China and Bangladesh. Clothes made abroad often have even more significant problems, such as utilising child and/or slave labour. Worryingly, most brands these factories were producing for claimed to not even know that the factories were producing clothes for them, highlighting the need for transparency across the supply chain. 

If we are to have a truly sustainable economy, we need to accept that good quality, ethically made clothing cannot be bought for £5. Better quality clothing costs more and has lower profit margins, but also is likely to last longer and be cherished more. Cheap clothes encourage wasteful behaviour

Packaging problems

In recent years, shoppers have move from shopping primarily at brick and mortar stores to shopping online, raising the added issue of packaging. Many small items will be wrapped in mounds of non-biodegradable plastic packaging, often in a box inside a box. This mound of packaging will likely primarily end up in landfill.

Consumerist behaviour

This year, with most Black Friday shopping taking place online, stories of injuries and even deaths thanks to the commotion of Black Friday are likely to be limited. However, these are yearly examples of how consumerism brings out the worst in shoppers. We tend not to make good decisions when stressed – simple neurobiology – and so Black Friday is one of the worst days to make purchasing decisions. 21% of Brits purchased something on Black Friday that they later regretted, at an average of £83 per person. The pressure of Christmas looming, limited items for sale and other shoppers going wild means that it’s unlikely Black Friday will be spent purchasing goods we need, instead leading to panic-buying items we’ll never use.

Shop and factory workers

Nothing is free. However much you save on an item, there will always be a cost somewhere. Unfortunately, during busy times of year this is often passed onto the workers who create and package up items to be dispatched. Working overtime in factoriesdispatch centres and on the shop floor is gruelling, with reports of timed loo breaks or worse, nappies, as well as long days and unsafe working conditions. I personally received numerous messages when researching for this topic from retail workers who dread Black Friday yearly due to the horrendous behaviour of customers and stressful conditions in store. 

Returns

With the UK panic-buying millions of items that are not needed, the volume of returns in the month after Black Friday skyrockets. This costs the retailers considerable amounts of money, resulting in a dip in profits, which again harms smaller businesses considerably more than larger ones.

Reports have suggested that it can cost a retailer twice the price of delivery for a product to be returned to the supply chain. In addition, the environmental costs are huge. When a product comes back to the warehouse it has to reprocessed, cleaned, repaired, repackaged and made ready to be bought again. In total, it will pass through seven pairs of hands before it is back on sale again – at which point it may be reduced and further devalued, perhaps even ending up in landfill, with devastating environmental effects. All of the above, combined with the extra packaging and shipping emissions mean that returning items en masse is both bad for business, and bad for the environment.

Black Friday encourages us to buy things we don’t really need, getting caught up in the frenzy of deals ‘too good to turn down’. Even people who are aware of the above issues can get carried away with the aggressive marketing tactics used by many brands – if you’re online or in town, it’s impossible to ignore. Even Instagram’s replacement of the notifications button with the ‘shopping’ button (who even knew Instagram was somewhere to shop?) is an example of the lengths brands and businesses will go to, to encourage consumers to consume more than ever before. 

My Black Friday rules are to avoid all ‘big deals’ and instead support small brands and independent businesses to buy Christmas presents – it scratches the shopping itch while simultaneously benefitting businesses that otherwise lose out at this time of year to bigger brands. If I need something big (furniture, white goods etc.) I’m likely to wait for Black Friday (this year I’m moving house and will certainly be looking for goods I need in the sales), but otherwise I avoid the day altogether. 

What are your thoughts on Black Friday? Are you a fan? Do you partake or avoid it? If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution

Microplastics – a macro problem?

Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny particles of plastics, created either for commercial use (primary microplastics, e.g. for use in cosmetics), from the breakdown of larger plastics (secondary microplastics), measuring 5mm or less in diameter. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of light shone on the prevalence and environmental and health impacts of microplastics, from their presence in drinking water, to their ubiquity in the ocean.

Thankfully, plastic pollution has come to the forefront of public perception (WWF)

It has long been known that plastics never really break down – instead, they break up into ever smaller pieces, causing environmental damage at every stage of the process. Single use plastics are thought to be the foremost contributor to secondary microplastics, but many microplastics are created intentionally to be used in industry. Wastewater treatment cannot filter out all microplastics, so they end up everywhere – in our oceans, freshwater systems and even the air we breathe.

Understanding the leading causes and relative abundance of microplastic in our ecosystems is key to understanding the how this might affect us, our environment and how best to limit that damage. With the problems being multi-fold – impacting both the environment and out health – we need solutions sooner rather than later, before irreversible damage is done.

For a summary of this article, scroll to the bottom.

A fish fry entangled in microplastic – National Geographic

What are the major causes?

A 2017 study found microplastics in 81 per cent of tap water samples globally. In the past few years, in mountain ranges in the US and France, researchers even found microplastics in rain. They have recently been found in the Arctic, too, giving an indication of their ubiquity. So where are these microplastics coming from? Without knowing the key sources, it is impossible to begin to understand how to tackle the problem. Here are the two key ways microplastics get into the environment.

  • Runoff from land-based sources, such as agriculture, tyre wear on roads and landfills.
  • Wastewater overflow, including treated water, as treatments cannot always capture such small particles. The microplastics come from the washing of clothes (microfibres), cosmetic microbeads, flushed period products etc. Every time we wash our clothes in the washing machine, millions of microfibres are shed. It is estimated that one load of clothes in a washing machine releases about 700,000 fibres per wash. Washing machine filters are not currently able to filter out these microfibres, so they work their way into our water systems.

What are the environmental impacts?

Environmentalists will be no strangers to images of seabirds with plastics filling their stomach, but do microplastics cause the same harm? The science suggests that the environmental impacts can be severe and far-reaching, with microplastics being found in 47% of Fulmar guano samples (a good indicator of their presence in marine environments).

The potential issues are multifold. As plastics do not degrade, they accumulate both with ecosystems and up food chains. They can also absorb toxic chemicals and pathogens, providing another route of harm. Another issue is that for many organisms, ingested plastics can make them feel full, so they stop eating and eventually die of starvation.

“Microplastics have been found in a wide variety of species including zooplankton, mussels, oysters, shrimp, marine worms, fish, seals, and whales. Several of these species are of commercial importance. For example, a 2009 survey in the Clyde Sea found 83% of Norwegian lobster contained plastic, mainly in the form of fibres. Similarly, trawls in the English Channel found microplastics in 36.5% of fish caught” (DEFRA).

Further to their effect on animals, microplastics have the potential to carry around pathogens and invasive species. High levels of microplastics on beaches may even change the temperature of the sand, affecting animals such as turtles where offspring sex is temperature-determined.

Despite the complex science, a 2017 United Nations resolution discussed microplastics and the need for regulations to reduce this hazard to our ecosystems. The problem is so widespread it’s unlikely to not be seriously harmful over the years, and combined with the other pressures on our oceans, they need all the help they can get.

Are they causing us any harm?

There is a huge absence of science in this area, thanks in part due to the relative recency of interest in the subject, but also due to the difficulty of carrying out robust scientific studies on humans. It is estimated that the average person consumes up to 120,000 particles of microplastic each year, with that number increasing for those drinking mostly bottled water. However, whether or not this has had adverse effects in the decades we have been consuming them is not entirely clear.

As with many environmental issues, our exposure to microplastics is partially dependent on where we live. In the UK and other high-income countries, sewage treatments can effectively remove most microplastics from effluent, reducing the amount present in freshwater systems. In low and mid-income countries, however, only 33% of the population have sewer connections, meaning that for most of the population, water is poorly treated, leading to greater microplastic concentration in soils and water systems, and thus greater potential adverse health incomes.

For the most part in richer countries, drinking water is treated enough to prevent large quantities of microplastics working their way in. However, the smallest plastic particles can assimilate their way into our food, including seafood (primarily shellfish). While most plastics are inert (don’t readily react) and insoluble and therefore unlikely to be absorbed into our bodies, there are concerns about their absorption of toxic chemicals from the environment. However, with the relative paucity of scientific studies on the subject, there is not enough evidence to suggest a link between microplastics in drinking water and food and adverse health outcomes. This doesn’t mean that the link is not there, simply that more studies need to be done in this area.

What can we do?

  • Reduce littering and improve rubbish collection systems.
  • Move on from the idea that plastic is disposable. With the average single use cutlery being used for just 3 minutes, yet taking hundreds of years to break down (not disappear), this will never be a sustainable attitude.
  • Install and optimise wastewater treatments which reduce the amount of plastic pollution in waterways, and thus the amount being consumed in drinking water too. While the UK has extremely effective treatment facilities, this isn’t the case everywhere.
  • Limit the introduction of new plastic sources into the environment. A lot of microplastic pollution comes from single-use plastics in one form or another, so by reducing the amount of plastic we consume, we can reduce the amount that eventually ends up in our ecosystems.
  • Improve plastic recycling systems and use them. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced (2018), 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, and 91% of this has not been recycled. By reducing the amount of plastic sent to landfill we can reduce the amount of plastic breakdown there is globally. This includes dealing with our own plastic problem, and not shipping it elsewhere (just another form of environmental racism)
  • Introduce global bans where possible on unnecessary use of microbeads (already done in the UK), for example in cosmetics, while recognising that this is only a small part of the issue.
  • Improve sustainable plastic alternatives. While current ‘bioplastic’ alternatives are not always less harmful than conventional plastics, existing technologies have the potential to decrease the prevalence of harmful plastics in our ecosystems. It is vital to ensure that replacements to conventional plastic is not more damaging than the plastic itself.
  • Introduce the widespread use of filtration bags when washing synthetic clothes (e.g. Guppyfriend washing bags).
  • Encourage brands to take responsibility for their plastic pollution at all stages of industry, from banning microbeads, to having consumers report litter (e.g. via the Plastic Patrol app).

TL;DR

Microplastics are everywhere, from rain to our drinking water, to the Arctic to the Mariana Trench.

Microplastics can break down into nano plastics, even smaller microscopic particles that can have differing impacts in lots of different ways.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that microplastics lead to negative health outcomes in people, but more research needs to be done in this area. Health impacts are likely to vary between countries depending on their treatment systems.

Improving sewage and water-treatment systems in LEDCs will likely have far-reaching positive effects, far beyond simply reducing microplastic exposure, and should be a priority where possible.

The real issues with microplastics lie in their effect on the environment, as they have been shown to be harmful to animal life at every stage of their degradation.

As with all environmental issues, behavioural change is all well and good, but what is really needed is system change that holds corporations accountable for their disastrous impact on the environment.

While the impacts are not fully understood, the ubiquity and prevalence of microplastics will likely already be causing issues to the environment and potentially our health too. We need more research to see where and how.

Thanks to Hattie for helping me research this huge topic! For more sustainability content, go and follow her on Instagram.

World Environment Day – increasing biodiversity from home

Biodiversity loss has been highlighted as the third biggest risk to the world both in terms of likelihood and severity this year, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict. Let that sink in. 

As we sit in the midst of a pandemic, it is easy to look only inwards, turning our backs on the changes that need to be made in our world for humans to continue thriving. However, now, more than ever, it is outwards that we need to look and wonder how we got ourselves here in the first place.

Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of life on earth. Humans are entirely dependent on biodiversity for the air we breath, food we eat and water we drink. Almost half of global GDP – around €40 trillion – depends on nature and the services it provides.

The recent COVID pandemic has brought to light just how much this is true, with scientists positing that the increased incidences of viruses such as Ebola, Bird Flu, Dengue Fever and COVID are exacerbated, if not caused, by biodiversity loss, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.

Today is World Environment Day, an international awareness day built to engage and motivate environmental action within governments, businesses and the general public. Each year WED has a theme, focussing efforts on one element of environmentalism in an effort to educate, share resources and make a difference.

This year’s theme is Biodiversity, a term which has seen the light of day more and more in recent years. The United Nations even labelled 2010 to 2020 the ‘decade of biodiversity‘, implementing strategies to improve it worldwide. However, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history, leading to the acceleration of climate change and demise of our natural world. Businesses are also not doing anywhere near enough, with most countries on track to miss the targets of the Paris Agreement.

“The more one thinks, the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance”. Charles Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, 1903.Apt, but today we don’t have ignorance as an excuse.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and our own wellbeing are all intrinsically linked. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent around 3% of its GDP each year, around £400m pa. It is in our best interest to do as much as we can to prevent further loss of the natural world, and start rebuilding where we can.

Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, it also impacts upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those tacking food security, poverty, peace, justice and development. As mentioned by Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, biodiversity is “a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.” (Guardian, Nov, 2018). Closer to home, biodiversity in green spaces is inextricably linked to mental health and wellbeing for all of us.

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady”. E O Wilson, The Diversity of Life, 1992.

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This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, potentially many more (UN). Figure from Guardian 2018

 

But what can we do from home?

I would argue that most of us interested in the natural world generally already know ways in which we can help, from changing to a green energy provider, cutting back on travel, switching to an ethical bank and changing to a meat-free diet, and it’s just a case of enacting this. However, there are many more small ways to improve biodiversity from home.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has turned our sights away from many parts of the world where threats to biodiversity are greatest, from illegal bycatch in fishing vessels and the deaths of those who regulate this, to the deforestation of sacred indigenous land in Sierra Nevada, Colombia, to make room for tourism (you can support a petition to end this illegal activity here). Because of this, it is important to look not only in our own backyards, but also what we can do to support efforts across the globe.

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While many backs are turned due to COVID, sacred regions within Sierra Nevada, Colombia, have been invaded and damaged by tourism projects and mining. Sign a petition to end this.

Close to home:

Leave wild spaces around your home.

  • If you have a lawn, leaving it for longer between mowing, or avoiding mowing patches altogether. This will not only improve the biodiversity of the plants, but also provide shelter for small mammals and insects.
  • Consider piling up wood, stones and garden cuttings to provide homes for more types of insect and mammal, as these are becoming rarer with the loss of woodland and increased obsession with ‘clean’ spaces. Composting organic matter also increases bacterial, fungal and other decomposers, providing a healthier garden all round.
  • Providing bird feed and water in your garden will also provide vulnerable bird species with a better chance of surviving harsh winters and being able to raise more young. Offer a mix of food for the widest variety of birds and provide protection from cats where possible!
  • Planting a window box with flowers that pollinators love can help maintain biodiversity in urban spaces. Having greenery at home is also great for your mental health!

Shop eco friendly.

Understanding how food and other crop production impacts the environment is a huge topic that deserves an entire literature review of its own. However, there are a few small steps we can make to ensure everything we buy is as biodiversity-friendly as possible.

  • Buy organic where possible. This does not always make a difference, but many of the farming practises that are intrinsic to organic farming (prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilisers, sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats and preservation of mixed farming) benefit local flora and fauna. On average, organic farms have 12% more biodiversity than equivalent non-organic farms. Look for the Soil Association label to make organic shopping easier. 
  • Buy shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee. This is vitally important as coffee is grown in some of the most biodiverse but rapidly changing environments, meaning that it can either support or harm endemic wildlife. Here’s how you should choose your coffee.
  • When buying furniture, only buy FSC certified wood. The FSC holds businesses to a standard that helps them carry out sustainable management practices to ensure forests thrive today and in the future (FSC).
  • Buy from ethical clothing brands. The fashion industry is immensely polluting, encourages deforestation, and if the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entire European continent. This is evidently bad for biodiversity. Buying less and choosing ethical companies can reduce your impact. Brands such as Veja are leading the way in supporting, rather than exploiting, the ‘guardians of the forest’ in the locations they source their materials, working with locals to promote biodiversity, instead of simply deforesting as many other brands do. Have a look at Good on You and EcoAge for other brand recommendations.

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Further afield:

Donate, support, fund, share.

We can make changes in everyday life and do what we can to maintain diversity, both close to home and further afield. However, the work of charities, NGO and certain businesses takes this a step further, keeping an ear to the ground to call out environmental injustices, hold governments to account and support local communities around the world. Here are just a few – comment your favourites below!

NGOs

  • Traffic, a NGO, supports efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade and combat wildlife crime. They focus on educating governments on sustainable wildlife management and regulation systems, reducing reliance on poaching and unsustainable trade. Donate here.
  • Amazon Watch works with indigenous people to protect large swathes of the Amazon rainforest. Recent research demonstrates that while the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25% of the world’s land surface and support about 80% of the global biodiversity. Protecting Indigenous people is protecting the environment they live in and vice versa. Donate here.
  • African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a UN accredited NGO, accompanies Africans in voicing their views on issues such as food and seed sovereignty, genetic engineering, agrofuels, biodiversity protection, extractive industries and the rights of small-holder farmers. They ‘focus on indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture and biodiversity related rights, policy and legislation’. I cannot find anywhere to donate but do check out and share their work!
  • National Biodiversity Network works closer to home (UK) to record and analyse data collected about UK wildlife, enabling conservation efforts to be focussed on areas that really need it. Knowledge is power! Donate or join here.
  • Cool Earth work to end deforestation and environmental degradation in rainforests, some of the most biodiverse places on earth. Rather than exerting top-down control, they work with local people to help them benefit from protecting their surrounding forests. Donate here.

Businesses

While NGOs and charity organisations are excellent, some estimates suggest they receive only 10% of the funding needed to avert a biodiversity crisis. Engaging the private sector to fill in the gaps is a necessary and productive next step.

  • Treedom supports biodiversity by allowing people to purchase native trees and plant them in small, sustainable agroforestry systems around the world. Trees contribute to biodiversity by providing shelter, food and homes for animals, insects and other plants, increasing the number of pollinators and natural pest predators, like birds (thereby supporting the pollination of the world’s crops), capturing CO2, preventing soil erosion and much, much more.
    The trees people sponsor with Treedom support smallholder farmers and their families, providing either food or an added income source. For transparency, all of their trees are geolocated and photographed, and customers receive regular updates about their tree and the project where it is planted.
    Treedom have planted over 1.1 million trees across 16 countries, offsetting over 340 million kgs of CO2 and providing food security and income for over 66,000 farmers. If you’d like to purchase a tree or two, the code FLORA10 gets you 10% off! Please do let me know if you buy one, as I’d love to share 🙂
  • There are many re-wilding projects also happening in the UK, returning deforested woodlands to their former diverse glory. You can learn more about rewilding projects here.

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Trees are vital for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, but also are excellent for your mental health too! Photo Johny Cook.

 

Nature provides us with everything we have, and we cannot afford to lose more biodiversity on this planet. While we may have long ago destroyed much of the biodiversity in the UK, there is still a chance to make an impact with our actions and reverse some of the damage, both close to home and further afield. The best time to at was yesterday. The next best time is now.

Many thanks to Hattie Webb for helping research this post – there was SO much more I could have put in, but in the interest of people actually getting to the end, I have saved this for another time. I hope you enjoyed reading! Please share it if you found it useful, tagging @foodfitnessflora and @hattie_eco on Instagram. Do add any ways you have found of increasing biodiversity, as well as any charities you like to support. Thanks for reading!

Reef-friendly suncreams

Many thanks to Hattie Webb for her help researching this post. Go and check out her Instagram for more on sustainability! Post contains some affiliate links, which are the only way I monetise my blog. These do not impact which products are chosen for this piece. 

As we move into summer, it becomes more and more important to take care of our skin. While up to 20 minutes in the sun without protection is great for achieving our recommended vitamin D levels, too much time in the sun can wreak havoc on our skin, both immediately (burns, sun spots) and long term (elevated risk of skin cancer, breakdown of elasticity, wrinkles etc).

Many people recommend we wear suncream year round, even on cloudy days (as up to 80% of UV radiation can pass through cloud cover), but with around 25% of the ingredients in the suncream we apply ending up in our waterways, what’s the environmental impact of this?

First off, how do suncreams work?

Sunscreens have one of two “modes of action”. Chemical sunscreens absorb ultraviolet radiation like a sponge, while mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide reflect it back from the surface of the skin like a mirror.

Which is better?

Either can work well, but the latter is better for the environment. Dermatologist Dr Catherine Borysiewicz says:

“Mineral sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, UVA and UVB protection (the former penetrates the skin more deeply but the latter is more intense and the chief cause of sunburn) are as effective as chemical sunscreens, great for people with sensitive skin or inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, and kinder to marine life,” she says. “They went out of fashion because they tended to leave a chalky white layer on the skin, but they are slowly becoming more popular again.”

What are the problematic ingredients?

Certain chemicals, found in many mainstream suncreams, have been found to be damaging to waterways and marine ecosystems. Octinoxate and Oxybenzone have been linked to coral bleaching, actively decreasing our fragile corals’ defences against climate change, and reducing their ability to reproduce and propagate.

Research suggests that coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to 6,000 – 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion every year, leading the island to ban suncreams containing Octinoxate or Oxybenzone, due to come into effect on 1st Jan 2021. These ingredients aren’t just harmful for corals though – they have also been linked to endocrine disruption in humans, as they can move through the skin and mimic hormones in the body, damaging sperm and reproductive hormones.

So what can we do?

Understanding why certain ingredients are harmful and choosing to avoid them is the best thing we can do to limit the impact our suncream has. Avoid aerosols too, as most of this doesn’t actually make it to the skin, instead coating everything around, including your lungs. Choosing to wear protective clothing to limit the amount of suncream you use not only saves money but will also help protect the environment.

Haereticus Environmental Laboratory also publishes a list each year of what sunscreens are safe for the environment, and the Environmental Working Group rates products with SPF values – including around 650 sunscreens and 250 moisturisers – on their environmental impact.

These are my three favourite brands and products that I try to buy whenever I’m in need of suncream. We may not be heading on holiday any time soon, but the sun is the same sun all around the world, so don’t think that it’s any weaker just because it’s cooler in the UK than your usual holiday destinations! So stock up and let me know your thoughts on these faves.

 

REN SPF 30

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This is the suncream I use on my face every morning if I’m spending time outside. It’s one of the few I’ve found that is truly mattifying (I like dewy, but there is a limit!), and REN really take their environmental credentials seriously. The bottle is made with recycled plastic and is fully recyclable, and the product is vegan and cruelty free, without any ingredients that are harmful to the environment. I cannot recommend this more as your go-to face suncream!

 

Tropic Great Barrier SPF 50

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Tropic’s entire range is certified reef-safe, vegan, cruelty free and has incentives for returning packaging too, to increase circularity. The brand is carbon neutral and sends very little (if any) waste to landfill), although I couldn’t see whether their packaging was recycled or not. Having used their other products before (though not this one), I can thoroughly recommend!

 

Green People SPF 30

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Green People use plant-based, carbon neutral packaging that is fully recyclable, and 30p from each of their sales goes to the Marine Conservation Society, a UK charity protecting our oceans and wildlife. This suncream is obviously certified reef safe too. Its texture takes a bit of getting used to, especially if the suncream is cold, and if you’re used to nicely scented suncreams this may be a bit strange, as it has no perfumes in. However it does the job – I’ve never burned with this suncream and love their aftersun and daily protection (SPF 15) too!

 

 

 

 

Sustainable paints

Week 9 of lockdown – how’s it going for you? What activities have you taken up, or is keeping afloat taking enough time as it is? With many of us still staying at home, working sporadically and lacking in social life, our views have turned inwards to our homes. Having worked our way through countless banana breads, sourdough starters and home haircuts, more and more people have chosen to use this time to make their living spaces more homely. It’s not a surprise either – usually we have real life to distract us from peeling wallpaper, outdated sofas and other DIY jobs that need doing, but when you pass those things everyday, they become harder to ignore.

Repainting is one of the easiest ways to redecorate without fear of electrocuting yourself, or having heavy objects fall on you. It’s simple enough for anyone to do with a bit of planning, but makes more difference to the feel of a room than almost anything else.

Excitingly, I’m also planning on moving home after summer, finally aiming to live with my partner, who I’ve been with for 5 years now, but whom I have never lived with full time. We’re hoping to be able to redecorate as soon as we move in, but want to do so as sustainable and ethically as possible. You can think of this article as a bit of research for myself, but hopefully it’ll help you too!

 

What makes some paints unsustainable? 

Needless to say, paints contain large numbers of chemicals, many of which are bad for both the environment and ourselves in large quantities. Research suggests that professional redecorators are considerably more likely to contract lung cancer, due to the volatile compounds and formaldehyde present in many paints and other building materials. Ingredients such as  vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can contribute to health issues, especially if you are prone to asthma or eczema.

Aside from the effects on indoor pollution levels, the production of paint and the ingredients therein can also have disastrous environmental consequences. Producing just 1L of conventional paint can produce around 30L of toxic waste, including solvent emissions that damage the ozone layer, and greenhouse gas emissions, whose effects we know all too well. Disposing of paints can also cause issues. Many are hazardous and cannot be disposed of in normal household waste, unless they are totally dried up. Some eco-friendly paints can be composted and/or recycled, reducing their environmental footprint. Here’s some information on how to dispose of your paint safely in the UK.

 

What are eco-friendly paints?

Currently, there is no standard for any paint company to call itself ‘eco-friendly’. Guidelines laid out by the EU have loose restrictions on volatile compound levels, but regulations do not separate out ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘conventional’ paints. Because of this, it can be hard to know if the ‘eco-friendly’ paint you are buying really is much better than cheaper conventional products.

Ethical Consumer, a site that explores the ethical and environmental credentials of companies, suggests looking out for certain terms when choosing paints. ‘Generally, plant-based, water-borne paints are the best buy, followed by plant-based, solvent-borne ones with natural solvents. Try to avoid those using titanium dioxide.’

Eco friendly paint companies also take into account the emissions and environmental impacts of paint production, not just the paint itself. The carbon footprint any toxic byproducts of production contribute to the paint’s overall environmental impact, so is important to bear in mind.

 

Best brands

Auro

Created in 1983, Auro was a pioneer of eco friendly paints, cleaning products and stains. Their paints are petrochemical free and the source all their raw materials from sustainably managed sources. Ethical Consumer highly rates their ‘gloss paint’.

 

Earthborn

Earthborn are the only UK brand to carry the EU ecolabel flower accreditation, showing their commitment to a circular economy and lower environmental footprint. Their paints are water-based, petrochemical free and breathable, making them suitable for a wide range of walls.

 

Lakeland Paints

If you’re an allergy sufferer, UK-based Lakeland Paints may be for you. Lakeland uses organic, non-toxic, no odour, volatile-compound free and are accredited by the British Allergy Foundation. All there packaging is also 100% recycled and/or recyclable.

 

Farrow & Ball

Farrow & Ball was the first in the industry to change their entire range to water-based paints. These are also low-VOC (volatile compounds), low odour and accredited by the Toy Safety Standards, meaning they’re even safe to use on children’s toys. The packaging is 100% recyclable, too.

 

Little Greene

Little Greene manufactures their environmentally friendly paints here in the UK. They have water-based, low VOC options, or oil-based options, made from sustainably sourced vegetable oils. Their wallpapers are either FSC or PEFC certified, meaning they come from sustainably managed forests, and for every tree cut down, another is planted. Their paint tins are made from 50% recycled steel and are fully recyclable.

 

Eico Paints

Eico paints was the only company I found that promised to use 100% renewable energy (geothermal and hydropower). Their production process is carbon positive, and their paints are low to no-VOC and low-odour, making them popular with allergy sufferers. They have a huge variety of colours, too!

 

We all need a little more greenery

There’s something immensely therapeutic about growing plants, whether on a balcony, in a garden or in your room. Studies suggest that being around greenery (even indoors) can help boost mood, relieve stress and anxiety and even boost self-esteem. I don’t know a single person that doesn’t need at least one of these things from time to time, so it’s about time we all got more plants in our lives.

With garden centres shutting their doors and more and more people cooped up at home, it could be difficult to get a regular fix of greenery in the day to day. Those living in big cities especially could struggle. But fear not! My experience of building a little forest in my tiny London flat (65 houseplants and counting) has taught me that no space is too small for greenery, and no human too inept. All you need is some well lit spaces and to pay a little attention to the plants every so often for watering.

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If you’re based in the countryside or are lucky enough to have a garden, now is your chance to practise your skills! I am no professional gardener, and yet this past week I have given my partner’s garden a whole makeover, digging out sedges and clearing dead branches, clearing steps from weeds and uprooting brambles. Now is the perfect time to get sorting your garden and planting new items – it’s spring, so everything will start growing voraciously from now. Any mistakes make will be covered up in a matter of weeks – and no one will be around to see them anyway!

So where to get new plants? Here are some recommendations, mostly small businesses in need of a little help in this time. Please remember – happily, many of these businesses have seen a huge surge in demand thanks to COVID19. Because of this, and because most of these are small businesses, there may be small delays in delivery. Remember this and be kind – good things come to those that wait!

Indoor

Lazy Flora

Lazy Flora (which naturally must come first on my list) delivers both indoor and outdoor plants around the UK. They’re offering all my readers £10 off with the code FOODFITNESSFLORA (not an ad, just trying to help as many startups as possible!). You can choose to set up a subscription, or organise one-off deliveries of both indoor and outdoor plants. I love Lazy Flora’s indoor plants because there is so much choice, including if you want specific items such as terrariums, pet-friendly plants or the ultimate ‘un-killable’ plants. I will also be purchasing their new veg-patch plants for the garden! They deliver nationwide.

Patch Plants

Patch has been all over my Instagram feed for the last year, since I got most of my houseplants from here (see photo in the centre of article). They’re not cheap at Patch, but the price reflects the quality. The soil they’re potted in is designed to feed them for a while to come, unlike so many shop-bought plants, and all of my Patch plants have been growing manically for the year I’ve owned them! My favourite is my Monstera (cheese plant) which refuses to die no matter how long I leave it without water. Patch delivers nationwide.

Bloombox club

Bloombox originated with the goal of using plants to support mental health. They also have a blog filled with advice and information on how best to look after your plants, which you can buy individually or as part of a subscription.  Their subscription plants are perfect if you’re not really sure what you want, and come with a perfect sized pot and a care card, so you know exactly how to look after it!

Hampshire Carnivorous plants

Looking for something a little different? Hampshire Carnivorous Plants sells carnivorous plants such as venus fly traps and pitcher plants. I have historically found these incredibly difficult to keep alive, but if you have flies in your house, they’re an excellent solution that looks a lot prettier than fly paper!

Wyld Home

If you don’t have a well lit flat, or have a habit of killing plants as soon as you get them, look no further than Wyld Home. A small business currently being run out of founder Krystyna’s house (they usually have a gorgeous brick and mortar shop, which is shut temporarily for obvious reasons), this is the perfect business to support, while simultaneously sprucing up your living space. They deliver to the UK, some parts of Europe, the US and Canada.

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Some plants on my shelves at home

Outdoor

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, spending time in it instead of out on the streets is one of the best ways to stay both safe and sane. Most gardens need constant upkeep, which usually is a bit of a nuisance, but right now is an absolute godsend! Find the neglected corners of yours and fill them up with outdoor plants. You can choose to plant either in flower beds or choose potted plants instead, perfect for a patio.

Long Acre Plants

If you have a garden that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, many plants may struggle. However, shade-plant specialist Long Acre supplies plants for exactly these conditions. They’re also incredibly environmentally conscious, avoiding peat compost, using recycled plastic and paper in packaging, and using renewable energy in their nursery and offices.

Real seeds

Starting your own vegetable patch is no mean feat, but if there was any time perfect for starting, it’s now! This startup sells everything from seed, so the season for planting some vegetables may be over, but if you’re looking for a long-term project this could be for you. They also share some very helpful advice on how to save seeds from vegetables you buy from the shops, so you don’t even have to spend any money if you don’t want to! But if you want to support an amazing startup, this is your guy.

Royal Horticultural Society

The RHS is the UK’s leading horticultural charity, working with adults and children alike to make the UK a greener place. They sell a variety of plants, from vegetables to flowers to entire trees. Whatever you’re looking for, they’ll likely have it.

Garden Store

Another huge gardening store from which you can source anything you need for your gardening, from vegetable seeds, to flowers, to garden furniture.  The garden store delivers to mainland UK in 3-5 working days, and provides free delivery for orders over £50. If you want to get all your garden stuff from one place, you’ll likely be able to source everything from here.

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Stunning 3L Chrysanthemums, perfect for Autumn colour.

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Gardening Express

Gardening Express was started by a teenager, who, in the 1990s, saw the potential for mail order plants. Fast forward two decades, he could not have been more right. As with all plant stores, Gardening Express has been seeing a huge rise in demand, but still aim to send out all deliveries within 10-15 days.

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I hope this helps your need for green – I will be buying some little vegetables to build a new vegetable patch in a small but sunny part of the garden. It’s one of the most therapeutic and rewarding activities I can think of right now, so perfect if you feel like you’re drifting a little bit. Don’t forget – you can take cuttings from all your plants (some easier than others) to grow new ones, no need to spend money!

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Some plants soaking up the evening light in my flat

 

10 things to do when you start running

With today’s announcement of the imminent closure of the UK’s gyms, many people will flock to other forms of exercise, from home workouts to yoga, to running. It might not be for everyone, but with limited alternative options, there’s a strong likelihood more people will be giving it a go.

First off: Do it! In terms of stress-busting ability, a good cardio session is unbeatable. Running is hard, and certainly not always pleasant, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is incredible, and while we’re putting our whole lives on hold, a sense of achievement can be hard to come by. So far, it’s still being allowed (and even recommended) by the government, so long as certain precautions are made.

However, there are some things to think about before getting started, not least because if you injure yourself, seeing a doctor or physio may be harder than usual, and there aren’t many alternative exercises you’ll be able to try instead!

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Running doesn’t have to involve seeing anyone or touching anything, so now is the perfect time to begin (if your government allows!)

  1. Start with a programme

If you’re new to running, don’t jump straight in there. In a moment of extreme motivation (or madness, or stress), it can be tempting to lace up your shoes and try to run 10km. Some people may be able to, but most won’t. Trying a couch to 5k, or if you have some experience already, a 5k to 10k, will ensure you progress at a pace that is less likely to put too much strain on your joints and muscles. It’ll also ensure you get out regularly, which is important for mental health.

2. Wear the right shoes

If you only have metcons because you’re a cross fitter, or converses, please don’t run in these! Your chance of injury will be greatly increased  – Emma Kirk Odunubi has some great information on this, so if you’re not sure, ask her! Usually I would recommend getting a gait analysis to find the right shoes for you, but this is unlikely to be possible right now. Since the postal service is still up and running, buy yourself a pair of running shoes that you think will work (I like Asics, Adidas, Nike and Hoka) and run in those. They might not be perfect, but they’re likely to be better than your lifting shoes!

3. Take rest days

If you’re doing a couch to 5k or similar plan, this will be built into your schedule, but if you’re just taking yourself for runs, make sure to allow yourself time to recover! No matter how fit you are, running places strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints, as well as your body’s energy systems. Allowing at least 2 rest days a week if important for recovery.

4. Don’t always go long

Long distance running is one of the only sports that can temporarily weaken the immune system. While exercise of 30-45 minutes a day is beneficial to your immune system, the energy systems required for long runs, and the amount of cortisol (stress hormone produced) can temporarily reduce your immune defence. Pair this with cold weather and a global pandemic, and long runs might not be in your best interest. Of course, the definition of what a ‘long run’ is varies from person to person, but bear in mind that shorter and faster may be better, at least for now.

5. Intervals

I get asked a lot why, when training for a marathon or half marathon, I include fast paced, short intervals. Intervals may make you a better runner, quicker, but also have the power to make your longer runs feel easier. It’s also just a variant of your normal long runs. Having a varied training schedule means you’re likely to work muscles (and your brain) slightly differently each time, building strength and keeping yourself interested.

6. Cross-train

OK, so the gyms are shut and the average person doesn’t have tonnes of equipment at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in other forms of training. More running doesn’t no necessarily make you a better runner, and fitting in cross training twice a week, with 3 runs a week is a great way to build strength and stave off injury. Try bodyweight exercises and physio exercises (prevention is better than cure!). Here are some great people to follow for online workouts. I also did a vlog with my physio where she talks about ways to avoid injury that’s worth a watch!

7. Eat well

This should go without saying, and most people don’t find it too hard once they start running! However, it’s easy to forget that new exercises (even if you exercised before) can be extremely energetically demanding for the body, and you need to eat to replace lost calories. Ensure your plate has plenty of colour (I don’t mean smarties) and dietary fibre, focussing on vegetables and wholegrains, and don’t forget your healthy fats (olive oil is a staple of my diet)! I don’t frequently take protein powder, but if you feel like you’re really struggling to fit in enough calories, this may be good to look into.

8. Sleep

With the start of any new exercise regime, the body can feel tired and sluggish, thanks to  a combination of having to learn a new skill and using up lots of physical energy. Getting adequate rest is vital for performance, but also your long-term health. You may need to sleep more if you are not used to exercising, so try to get to bed earlier and reduce caffeine intake if possible. Not being able to sleep is a symptom of overtraining, so if you’re feeling exhausted but unable to sleep after throwing yourself headfirst into a new running regime, maybe take a step back for a couple of weeks.

9. Keep away from people

It’s within the governmental guidelines (within the UK at least) that running while avoiding people is absolutely fine – recommended even! The benefits are notable, and will be a great thing to keep most people mentally sound. However, as mentioned above, you’re most vulnerable to getting sick for up to 72 hours after a long, hard run due to elevated cortisol levels. Combined with the inevitable bodily fluids from running, especially in the cold (spittle, sweat, snot – you name it, you’ll have it), it’s a really sensible idea to stay away from people as much as possible on your runs, for your own safety and theirs.

10. Enjoy it! 

Running is a love it or hate it sport, but if you’re in the latter camp, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I used to HATE running, but I forced myself to do it because it was my alone time (and because I wanted to lose weight). Now, however, I am quite obsessed. I’m not even that good, but the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get after each run is unparalleled. I like to share my runs to Strava (a run tracking app) to get a sense of community spirit, even when I’m not running with others. Even in quarantine, we’re in this together!

 

I hope you found these tips useful! If you’d like to share them, please tag my Instagram and encourage everyone you know to take this up! Who knows, we could all come out of this epidemic in far better shape (mentally and physically) than when we went in.