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 It’s not a surprise either – usually we have real life to distract us from peeling wallpaper, outdated sofas and other DIY jobs that need doing, but when you pass those things everyday, they become harder to ignore.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

 

What is green energy and can it save the planet?

There are lots of ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, from cutting out meat and fish to moving our money to an ethical bank to using less fossil fuel. However, when it comes to changing energy provider to live a little greener, the whole industry can be a minefield!

A Which? survey in early 2014 found that energy tariffs are too confusing, despite the reforms brought in earlier that year. For me, changing energy company appeared complicated, not least because of the myriad of tariffs and providers available (known to confuse the consumer into paying more than they have to), and the fact that some providers don’t provide to certain locations. However, I recently switched from Shell to Bulb and it took me all of 2 minutes (via a short online form, since they only have one tariff) – it’s not as complicated as it seems if you choose the right provider!

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I plan to help with each of these aspects! (From 2000+ respondents to a MoneySuperMarket survey)

As most Brits turn their heating on around this time of year, it’s the perfect time to look for a cheaper way to get your energy – and there’s no reason you can’t make it friendlier on the planet, as well as your pocket.

What makes energy green?

Traditional energy suppliers rely primarily on non-renewable resources, such as oil, coal and gas, which are major contributors to climate change through the release of CO2. Ninety-seven percent (or more) of scientists are certain the climate has been warming over the past century and that the pace of warming is accelerating due to human activities — particularly the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. As such, the reduction in our use of fossil fuels is of utmost importance.

Green energy uses renewable resources (e.g. wind power (big in the UK), wave, solar (esp US), hydroelectric, etc.). The amount of renewable electricity used by UK households has increased to overtake fossil fuels this year for the first time, partially because of growing concerns over fossil fuels, and partially because green energy has become much more efficient to produce. In addition to slowing climate change, switching to a green energy provider can help fight harmful levels of pollution, meaning we can all live longer (and healthier). However, we still have a long way to go to make a significant change.

“Renewables are already the world’s second-largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“As costs continue to fall, we have a growing incentive to ramp up the deployment of solar PV.”

It is important to remember that when you switch to a green energy company, a certain amount of energy sourced from non-renewables is used to fill gaps in supply of renewable energy. However, a proportion of what you pay will be matched by the equivalent amount of energy being fed into the national grid from renewable sources, with the result being a much cleaner way to get energy.

Conversely, whilst many major energy companies can sell ‘green’ energy tariffs, these are not necessarily helping the problem. Big companies are able to buy green energy from smaller companies and sell it on to the customer, without actually having any renewable sources of their own. This article explains it much better than I can – just don’t be fooled when a big company tries to sell you ‘100% renewable energy’.

It is clear that we all need to be making a switch to cleaner, greener energy companies – companies that care about the environment at least as much as their own profits.

To make it easier for you to change over, I’ve compiled some of the most popular providers on the market. All of these companies supply 100% renewable electricity, so you can rest assured that whichever you choose, you’ll be doing plenty of good!

The suppliers

Bulb

Bulb energy was one of the most popular energy providers with my followers when I was doing research for this piece. It’s a fast-growing company that promises to make energy ‘simpler, cheaper and greener’. It rates higher than any of the Big 6 energy companies and 95% of customers have joined in the last 2 years, showing its increasing popularity. It’s also a B Corp (a very highly-regarded certification of sustainability)!

Best for: All round customer satisfaction, referral credit (mine is www.bulb.me/foodfitnessflora if you’d like to use it!).

Octopus

The only company that fared better than Bulb on customer complaints was Octopus. This innovative company invests in sustainable tech, including tariffs that allow customers to run their homes off their electric car’s power during peak energy times, removing some pressure off the national grid. Unlike Bulb, Octopus offers a variety of tariffs, which are some of the cheapest in the UK.

Best for: Innovation and cheap tariffs

Ovo energy

OVO energy has recently published its first sustainability strategy, including plans to reach net-zero by 2030 (10 years ahead of the government deadline). This, partnered with the ambition to halve customers’ total carbon footprint by 2030 make it an appealing option for anyone interested in the environment.

OVO currently has 1.5 million consumers across the UK and is looking to expand (in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory, of course). However, OVO has recently come under fire for not producing its own green energy, and instead purchasing it from other providers.

Best for: Making a political statement

Good Energy

Good energy was the first dedicated 100% renewable electricity supplier, with all of its energy being sourced from solar, wind, hydro power and biofuel from British energy generators. Reviews online appear to be middling, although still better than the Big 6 energy providers. All the above companies provide renewable electricity, but Good Energy was the first to also supply carbon neutral gas, and also owns its own sources of renewable energy.

Best for: Clean gas and ethics

TL;DR

As fossil fuels become more and more scarce, we will have to find new, more efficient ways of getting energy. Already however, the excessive use of fossil fuels is harming the planet and our health. Divesting in your own home as much as possible will help reduce your impact.

Hopefully this shortlist will help you find a way to lower your environmental impact, and your bills too! It is clear that there need to be more transparency about companies’ energy sources, but switching to any of the above companies will be beneficial to the environment.

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This article is an edited version of one I wrote for Eco-Age