Would you ever consider taking part in a family sustainability challenge?
There’s such a buzz around ‘sustainability’ at the moment, isn’t there? Everything from banning single use plastics, to reducing meat production; saving energy to recycling. It seems to be everywhere you look.
I think we humans are starting to become increasingly more aware of how our actions are impacting on this little blue planet we call home.
Both in a negative and a positive way.
As a family, we definitely try to do our bit.
We recycle as much as we can; old clothes and shoes get sent to the charity shop, possessions get passed along, food scraps go in the compost or food waste bin, and we sort glass, paper and tin every week.
We switch lights off and try to conserve water.
It’s something that I make a concerted effort with and, I figure, even the smallest action can help. I love the fact that my boys — even at such a young age — are learning to take care of the environment.
So when we decided — as a family — to take part in a ‘Sustainability Challenge’, I thought I’d share our experience on the blog.
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The Family Sustainability Challenge
So, what did we do?
There are so many different sustainability challenges you can set yourself; ‘Energy Saving, Reducing Kitchen Waste and Zero Plastic’.
It’s best to choose just one and try to work it into your everyday life.
- Use microwaves and slow cookers to save money and energy
- Cook in batches
- Don’t leave appliances on
- Use lids on pots to trap heat
- Energy saving lightbulbs
- Use the right sized pans
Reducing Kitchen Waste
- Reuse and recycle
- Boycott bottled water
- Make sure everything you’re throwing away is actually waste
- Compost your food scraps
- Reduce or eliminate paper towel use
- Reusable coffee cup
- Plastic free lunchbox
- Reusable cutlery
- Foldable chopsticks
- Stainless steel water bottle
- Reusable straw
- Foldable tote bag
On paper, I think the most challenging of the three is definitely going ‘plastic free’ for seven days; so — never one to shy away from a good challenge — I decided to try see if it was possible.
Not So Fantastic Plastic
These days, everything comes in plastic. Even if we take our own bags to the supermarket, almost everything we take off the shelves comes wrapped in plastic of some kind.
We decided that for one week, we’d shun the supermarket shop and try and be as self-sufficient as we could; using food that we already had in the cupboard or from our allotment.
If you’re a city dweller, growing your own food could prove tricky, but we’re lucky that we live in a rural area and have the space to grow our own fruit and veg.
Instead of the heading off to the supermarket, to do our weekly shop, the boys and I wandered down to the allotment to pick up our food for the week ahead.
Pick Your Own
By growing and picking our own produce, we were definitely able to reduce our plastic usage considerably.
Over the course of the week, during our family sustainability challenge, we didn’t buy one thing that came in a plastic bag, bottle or wrapper.
We bought meat from a local butcher and took along a reusable plastic tub to bring it home in — and OK — it was still plastic, but it was something we already had and wasn’t thrown away once we’d bought the food home.
I guess, if you didn’t have the luxury of a large garden or an allotment, you could still make a difference by swapping supermarket shopping for market produce; you could take along reusable tubs or paper bags for things that would ordinarily come in a plastic wrapper.
Plastic, plastic everywhere…
Over the week, I became more and more aware of plastic, in all sorts of places.
Even down on the allotment; the compost bins and water-butts are made from plastic, as were the tool handles, netting and twine.
I guess, in this day and age, it’s inevitable that things we use will be made out of plastic. It’s the go-to material — cheap and malleable. In days gone by, netting and twine would have been made from jute and hemp, bins would have been made from metal or wood.
I suppose, it’s not all bad though; these things are hard wearing and will be utilised again and again.
Turning Our Back On Single Use Plastic
Definitely easier said than done.
Whilst eating home grown produce — and taking vessels to the shops, to bring products back home in — definitely cut down on our consumption of the single use plastics used for the packaging of food, what about the other things we buy?
Shampoo and conditioner? Household detergents? Sweets? Biscuits? Once I started really looking into plastic free living, I realised just how hard it would be to have a totally zero plastic lifestyle.
Granted, you can buy some things loose and take your own container to put your goods in, but with things like shampoo, I think the best way at the moment is to buy larger sizes.
Bulk buying means less waste and — whilst that’s not a long term solution — it’s the best I can come up with at the moment.
So what have we learnt?
I think the biggest eye-opener for me was the sad realisation that it would be almost impossible for my family to live our current lifestyle, totally plastic free.
We love the odd packet of crisps or chocolate bar — and buy packets of rice, pasta and cereal — and with the best will in the world I’m sure if we could find a non-plastic wrapped alternative, they’d either be super expensive or not quite right.
Whist we could definitely make small changes here and there — which eventually could add up to a big change — going totally plastic free would be pretty hard, as things stand at the moment.
But — weirdly — by choosing the ‘zero plastic’ option, I noticed that we also met the Energy Saving and Reducing Kitchen Waste challenges, without even really trying!
We didn’t buy any bottled water during the week of the sustainability challenge. Plus, as we didn’t purchase anything in a plastic wrapper, I didn’t buy any paper towels, so it naturally eliminated that too.
We used the composter on the allotment more regularly and generally ‘reduced our kitchen waste’ quite considerably.
With the food we harvested from our allotment, we made big batches of soup and stews — this met the ‘energy saving’ part of the challenge.
To Sum Up
We’ve loved taking part in this little exercise. It’s made us look at things with a totally new perspective and we’re definitely going to continue to try new ways to cut down on our consumption of single use plastic.
I guess, the purists among us would say that my three boys and I failed the zero plastic challenge.
Although we didn’t buy any products that either contained — or came in single use plastic — for a whole week, we still used plastic tools and plastic containers.
We still drove our cars and washed our clothes.
I remember reading a study, last year, that said:
‘…up to 30% of plastic pollution came from primary microplastics; of which the biggest contributors (almost two-thirds) were abrasion of synthetic textiles (whilst washing) and abrasion of tyres (whilst driving).’
It’s a sobering thought.
The plastic that is finding its way into our oceans — harming the wildlife — and eventually making its way back into our own food chain, is a stark reminder that we just can’t go on like this. It’s totally unsustainable for our little planet.
But, little by little, if we make small changes to how we live, the things we buy and the choices we make, we can hopefully start to make a difference.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.
Caro Davies is a former art-director turned writer and content-creator, and editor behind UK lifestyle blog The Listed Home. She writes about home-related topics, from interiors and DIY to food and craft. The Listed Home has been featured in various publications, including Ideal Home, Grazia, and Homes & Antiques magazines.