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How to find green drawers… and by that I mean eco furniture not unusual undies!

green pants

Right, so here we are a month in to 2016 and I have no idea where 2015 went. The first half was a sleep deprived blur of newborn baby so I guess that at least explains where some of it disappeared to. Anyway, on to 2016 and my younger daughter has (finally!) moved into her new bedroom and I would like to get some furniture so that we can store her clothes (currently contained in a large cardboard box). The next question that springs to mind is how do I achieve this in an environmentally friendly way?

I have had a look at second hand furniture places locally but nothing suitable has come up so far. I have also signed up for the local Freecycle group in case anything becomes available there.

Looking at new furniture, there is plenty of cheap and cheerful stuff on offer but I would really like to get something that is designed to last and that is made in an ethical and sustainable way. Ideally I would like to get something that is made locally but whether that is possible without getting something bespoke (and most likely at huge expense!) remains to be seen.

It is probably worth saying at this point that my partner is a carpenter and so he is extremely talented at making things for our home. However, in this situation, the time and expense involved don’t really add up. I guess this is one of the issues with the vast quantity of cheap imported products available these days. In reality, it is difficult to buy the raw materials here to make something for the price of a brand new, finished piece of furniture.

At this point I am asking myself if we could make do with something we already have or perhaps specify a simpler piece of furniture which would be quicker for my partner to make. To be honest though, the cost of this in terms of both the materials and the number of working days needed to make any piece of furniture would be significant and it is really difficult to justify when we seem to have so many other things to fit into our everyday lives. We are still renovating our house so there are many, many things already on the carpentry to do list…

So that leaves the option of buying something. I am going to continue pursuing second hand options too though. I love the idea of a little project where I could buy a random scruffy item of furniture and sand it down and paint it. I really relish the opportunity to get creative so I am going to keep an eye out for something suitable just in case. However, I would still like to investigate other buying options too.

Furniture made from wood seems like an obvious place to start. So from a quick bit of Google research, furniture made from FSC certified wood is a good way to go as this accreditation requires that the timber should be sourced from woodland which is well managed in terms of environmental impact. There is also now increasingly some furniture available made from reclaimed wood (sourced from old houses, furniture etc).

This is all great in theory but when I start googling FSC furniture I am not getting many retailers coming up in the search results. I have also tried looking at the furniture section of the website of a big department store and they don’t mention FSC anywhere which is both surprising and disappointing. There are however some smaller businesses offering FSC furniture which are definitely worth a look. An alternative option is furniture made from recycled materials although again there don’t seem to be that many places offering this and the furniture I have seen so far is quite modern which only works in the right setting (our home is more rustic than refined!)

An additional consideration which hadn’t occurred to me until I started researching eco furniture is something called ‘offgasing’. This basically refers to items of furniture releasing substances into the air. Apparently everything does this and it is not a bad thing in itself however some offgas chemicals can be toxic. There is a certification scheme called Greenguard which requires furniture to be low toxicity. Untreated wood or natural finishes are also apparently less likely to offgas. The same applies to second hand furniture (assuming it isn’t old enough to have lead paint on it!)

As well as being aware of offgasing from furniture, it is also worth knowing that furniture, curtains, carpets etc may be coated in flame retardants. These are chemicals in powder form and there is some research linking them to health problems. Comments on some of the websites that I have looked at say that these chemicals are not even particularly effective at preventing fires. I am in no way qualified to comment on the science behind all of this but I don’t particularly like the idea of having potentially harmful chemicals in my home if it can be avoided. Apparently the best way to establish whether they are present is by checking the manufacturer’s label as it should contain information on whether a piece of furniture contains flame retardants. Natural products such as wool are also less likely to have had chemicals added.

OK, so what does this all mean for my daughter’s bedroom furniture? It means I will spend a little more time and effort on trying to source some second hand furniture which would avoid the perils of major offgasing and also avoids the need to chop down any trees (even FSC ones). If that doesn’t work out then we will save up and buy something new but from a sustainable source. Perhaps in the long term we can also add some items of furniture to the carpentry to do (wish)list!

(photo is from in an article about environmentally friendly underwear)

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas!

christmas tree

OK, so we are now part way through November which in my view means it is officially OK to talk about Christmas. I always feel like Christmas seems a long way off and then time flies by and suddenly people are telling me they have completed all of their Christmas shopping when I have barely started mine! An added consideration to my Christmas preparations this year is the environmental perspective.

I believe the eco mantra is reduce/reuse/recycle. So with this in mind, here are my thoughts so far on how to have a Green(er) Christmas:

 Wrapping presents

100% Recycled wrapping paper from the local Oxfam charity shop – £2.99 per roll

Recycled tissue paper and recycled ribbon: 

I have also bought some fair trade organic cotton offcuts which my partner (who is quite handy with a sewing machine) has made into drawstring bags of various sizes so we are going to put some of our presents in these and then reuse the bags each year.

Christmas trees

Friends of the Earth have a guide to environmentally friendly Christmas trees:

If you already have an artificial tree, the recommendation is to get as much use out of this as possible. In terms of real trees, the advice is to get one from a sustainable source that is locally grown and if it is a cut tree then look into your local council’s provision for recycling them afterwards so they don’t end up in landfill. Another option is a tree in a pot which you just bring in for Christmas each year but these apparently do take a little bit of looking after.

I do love real trees and we usually have a cut one so we will have to have a think about what to do this year. We also have an artificial one so we need to have a rethink on whether we really need two trees…

I am also going to try to find some other options for decorating the house such as holly, fallen branches and pine cones from the local woods.

Christmas lights

I have read that using LED Christmas lights and putting them on a timer is a good way to save energy and reduce their environmental impact. They are also supposed to be safer as they don’t produce as much heat as traditional lights. You can even get solar powered LED fairy lights:


I was at the garden centre a while back and they had some beautiful decorations. There were angels and fairies and I was so tempted to buy one (my daughter loves fairies) but I decided that we really didn’t need yet another Christmas decoration which is made of plastic and manufactured abroad (potentially in the absence of fair pay and decent working conditions).

I have been looking for eco-friendly decorations instead and have come up with the following:

  • Home-made paper-chains made from old magazines – I haven’t tested this yet but I am hoping it will keep my daughter occupied for at least half an hour!

  • Or you can buy paper chains made of recycled paper:

  • These edible stained glass cookie decorations look amazing and I am definitely going to try them out:

  • These little Christmas trees made from sticks look brilliant but I am not sure I am handy enough with a drill to attempt this one!

  • Baked slices of orange are also a really simple tree decoration:


As I get presents this year, I am thinking more carefully about what I buy, what it is made from and where I buy it from. This does present an extra challenge because in these times of online shopping, the array of choice on offer is vast, however, as soon as you start to apply criteria such as fair trade, made from recycled/sustainable materials, locally sourced etc the amount of choice shrinks rapidly. A good example of this would be that when I asked my daughter what she would like for Christmas this year she requested a purple owl. The internet has provided me with lots of options for purple owl soft toys but I haven’t found any so far that claim to be fair trade or made from sustainable materials.


I have found some great websites for wooden/recycled plastic toys such as:

John Lewis stock a few items from a US brand called ‘Green toys’ which are made from 100% recycled plastic such as this dumper truck:


I quite often buy nice toiletries as stocking fillers/presents for people at Christmas. This year I am opting for more environmentally friendly products.

Aveda say on their website that they aim to use naturally derived ingredients which are ethically sourced. They also use packaging made from recycled materials:

Faith in Nature have a good range of products too which also come in recycled packaging:

Socks & Clothes

It is a family tradition in our household to exchange silly socks at Christmas. This year I have found a variety of socks which say they are more environmentally friendly, some made from recycled materials, some from organic materials and some from bamboo. A lot of these companies also sell clothing.


Braintree clothing:

Seasalt Cornwall have a collection of organic clothes, socks etc:


I also tend to buy chocolate as a Christmas treat. Divine chocolate is fairtrade and 44% owned by the farmers (and tastes good!)

Christmas cards

I have decided not to buy new Christmas cards this year. We have a few left over from previous years so I will start using these up. I am also contemplating ecards. I have found quite a few websites offering ecards for free although I haven’t tested them out yet. You can even add your own family photo to personalise them.

Summing up

One of the biggest things I am finding with all of this is that being green can be more expensive. I used to buy a multipack of wrapping paper from the supermarket for £2.99 which had 3 rolls of paper in it and now I am spending £2.99 on one roll of recycled paper. I am therefore thinking more carefully about what I buy in the first place. On the other hand, there are some things that will save money in the long term too such as using the cloth bags instead of wrapping presents in paper as we can reuse the bags for years and years. Natural decorations for the house such as holly are also free!

Another issue is that whilst I am quite happy to give up things myself, I find it harder to restrict what I make available to my kids. If they have their heart set on a plastic toy which is not recycled or fairtrade, should I say no? I think the answer is to try to find green/ethical alternatives and to buy these where they are available. The more consumer demand there is for green/fairtrade products, the more the range of products will expand, leading to more choice. This will then reduce the need for me to feel guilty when I buy my daughter ‘my little pony’ socks which aren’t made from organic cotton!

Going back to the eco mantra of reduce/reuse/recycle, I am working on reducing what I buy at Christmas. This is involving a fair degree of restraint on my part when it comes to buying random novelty items that are amusing but don’t really serve any purpose (crackers being an excellent example of this). It is hard as there are lots of tempting things out there to buy and Christmas (perhaps wrongly) does tend to be a time of excess. I do believe we can still have a really amazing Christmas this year whilst being a bit greener.

So, after all of my research and internet browsing, am I ready for a green Christmas? I think ‘ready’ would be overstating things somewhat, I still have presents to buy and decorations to make but I do now have some ideas on how to make Christmas a bit more environmentally friendly. I think the creative projects such as making our own decorations will really add to the fun.

Only 30 sleeps to go…


The plastic-free challenge: how easy is it to survive a week without using products which come in plastic packaging?

plastic bottles

I read an article recently about someone who was attempting to go plastic free for a month. It seemed like a good idea so I thought I would give it a go. I am definitely not brave enough to attempt a whole month and I am also not convinced I will manage to go completely plastic free straight away so I have decided to have a week of avoiding plastic instead. The main purpose of this week is to start noticing the everyday things that I buy which come in plastic wrappers and to start thinking about alternatives. To motivate me, I thought I would keep all of the wrappers and plastic that I do use as a visual reminder of what I accumulate over the course of a week… I may regret this decision!

Day 1

So day 1 has not gone well. I had porridge for breakfast and the oats came in plastic packaging. I did not have enough time to make lunch for today’s work trip so I bought lunch from the shop. It turns out that most ready to eat lunch options are sold in a plastic container of some sort. I may also have succumbed to the temptation of the fizzy drinks aisle… and they were on offer if you bought two bottles and I was feeling the need for caffeine having had an early morning start… I did however use cutlery from the kitchen at work to eat my pasta salad rather than a disposable plastic fork like I usually do. I also had a flapjack which was organic (good) but came wrapped in plastic (less good). I had an apple too which had no packaging at all J Day one’s dinner was home cooked from mainly fresh ingredients so not too much packaging consumed there.

Day 2

As it happens, day 2 coincides with us going on holiday. Having learned my lesson about plastic free lunch being tricky to buy when out and about, on the evening of day 1, I made sandwiches for day 2. I went to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread but couldn’t find any which wasn’t in a plastic wrapper. Even the freshly baked bread came wrapped in plastic. I was hoping there might be a paper bag option but no such luck. I put the sandwiches in a lunch box on the basis that whilst this is still made from plastic it is at least reusable so preferable to cling film or buying food in a plastic wrapper. I also filled up my flask at home to avoid needing to buy a drink in a plastic bottle.

I am not sure why, but for some reason I always feel entitled to some sort of snack or treat on long car journeys. It is almost as if my brain thinks the calories don’t count when I am in the car! For this journey, I bought popcorn which came in a foil/plastic type bag. It did occur to me that I might be able to make my own popcorn at home and bring it along for the journey to remove the need for packaging. I will look out for a suitable recipe to test (an excellent excuse to eat more popcorn!) If I find something that tastes good, I will share it on the website.

Back to day two, and dinner was reasonably successful because we stopped at a restaurant so the food was served on plates rather than coming in lots of plastic packaging.

Day 3

So it is day 3 and we are now on holiday – yay! We had porridge for breakfast (involving oats from a plastic bag again). We went out for the day on a woodland bike ride. We had lunch in the café which meant that the food itself mainly came on plates although we did buy sandwiches which came in a paper and plastic wrapper and also bought drinks in plastic bottles.

You may be noticing a trend here… it seems that the main thing I buy in plastic packaging is food. As we were packing to go on holiday I did also notice that quite a lot of household products such as toiletries, laundry liquid, dishwasher tablets and loo roll all come in plastic containers/wrappers. There is a health food shop locally where you can take your laundry liquid bottle for a refill so I thought I might try that as a way to get more use out of that particular plastic bottle. I am also thinking of swapping back to bars rather than liquid soap which always comes in a plastic bottle.

I should probably mention that with two young children we get through a lot of milk (as well as mountains of food!) and currently we buy milk from the shop in a plastic bottle. I am thinking of swapping over to getting milk delivered by the local milkman as then it would come in glass bottles which we could return to be reused.

The new legislation has just come in to force regarding shops having to charge for plastic bags which is an added incentive to start making more use of the little fold-up bag for life I carry around in my handbag so that is another small reduction in plastic used in our household.

Day 4

So it is day 4 and I do need to level with you at this point by admitting that the amount of plastic accumulated over just the last three days is really starting to get in the way. I have therefore abandoned the idea of collecting all of the packaging that I use as it just isn’t practical, particularly whilst on holiday. What it has shown me is that I use way more plastic than I thought I did. It seems to me that finding non plastic substitutes is going to require more time and forward planning than I can muster with 1 week’s notice.

Broadly speaking, the items that I buy in plastic packaging can be split into (1) things I buy for the household (cooking ingredients, toiletries, cleaning products, loo roll etc.) and (2) snack food and drinks that we buy when out and about.

With regard to household purchases, I am going to look out for brands/shops which have more environmentally friendly packaging. This could be achieved by having less packaging on the item in the first place, by having packaging made from more environmentally friendly materials, or where I can get refills and reuse the original container. It also occurred to me that buying in bulk might be preferable as it would involve one large packet rather than lots of little ones (which probably use more materials overall).

In terms of snacks and meals whilst out and about, I am going to plan ahead more and make lunch to take with me or eat in a restaurant where the food comes on a plate rather than in a packet. With enough planning ahead, I could also bake some homemade treats such as flapjack rather than buying snacks but this will require more time which is something I don’t seem to have a lot of right now.

Another easy win is to take drinks with me more often although in all honesty I am struggling to give up fizzy pop! My plastic free challenge has also got me thinking about whether buying drinks in glass bottles or aluminium cans might be better for the environment than buying them in plastic bottles. From what I can gather from a brief bit of internet research, they all have a cost to the environment. Apparently even glass has a significant environmental impact as it is made from non-renewable resources (sand, silica and limestone) and these elements have to be heated to a very high temperature to make glass which requires a lot of energy. So it seems the best option for the environment is to use a flask or reusable water bottle where possible. This does leave me with a fizzy drinks conundrum though as I am struggling to give them up and they generally come in a bottle or can of some sort!

Day 5

So by day 5, I am feeling a little defeated by my plastic free challenge as it doesn’t seem to have gone well. I even wondered whether to write about this at all (as I feel like it has been a bit of a disaster). However, the point of this blog is to be honest about my journey to going green and the challenges that I encounter. After all, if it were really easy then we would all have done it already. I realise that to a hardcore environmentalist I am probably sounding like a bit of a wet blanket at this point in time complaining that I don’t want to give up fizzy pop. However, the point is to try to find workable compromises that we can all live with whilst also reducing our impact on the planet. If we all made a few little changes that would add up to a big change. Sometimes I think the reason it has taken me so long to wake up to climate change is because the task of addressing it feels like such an impossibly big challenge that I didn’t want to even begin to contemplate it. If we break it down into small changes then it starts to feel a lot more manageable and achievable on a day to day basis.

Summing up

In answer to the question ‘how easy is it to survive a week without using products which come in plastic packaging?’ the answer for me personally is that it is surprisingly tricky. It is definitely possible to go plastic free but it will require changing some habits which have become fairly ingrained.

On the plus side, I am now a lot more aware of how and when I use plastic packaging and I have already made some straight forward switches to alternative products. This week still feels like a bit of a failure though given that I really wanted to get as close to being completely plastic free as I could. Possibly I was a little over ambitious on this occasion. I think I will just have to be satisfied with a reduction in plastic use for now and keep looking for further alternatives and opportunities to reduce waste. I might even repeat the plastic free challenge in a few months’ time to see if I fare any better. It has also given me an excellent excuse to start taste testing homemade popcorn!

Making the switch from disposable to cloth nappies

rose in cloth nappy

Okay, so I am now the proud owner of a whole set of cloth nappies. We are using the all-in-one cloth nappy where the inner and outer parts are integrated and you use a thin disposable liner inside. As an added bonus, they have pretty patterns on them. The pictures have absolutely no benefit to the environment whatsoever but they do make my daughter look particularly cute!

The practicalities

So far, the cloth nappies have been fine for use during the day but we have had some leaks at night even when using them with an extra booster pad. After several nights in a row of soggy baby and bedding we have reverted to putting a disposable nappy on at night time and using the cloth nappies during the day. This probably isn’t ideal for the environment but on the other hand the energy and water required to keep washing the bedding when the nappy leaks probably isn’t good for the environment either.

The cloth nappies are easy to use although there is definitely more washing to do. This isn’t proving to be too much of an issue at the moment while the weather is warm (ish) as we can often line dry the nappies in the garden.

On the down side, I did a long car journey the other day and had the windows open most of the way home because there was a particularly smelly nappy in the boot which I had to bring home for washing where in the past with a disposable nappy I could have put it in the bin. Apparently you can get a purpose-made bag to put the dirty nappies in which can go in the washing machine too and this prevents the smelly-nappy-in-car situation. This definitely sounds like a good idea!

On the plus side, we usually end up with a full to overflowing rubbish bin by the time it is due for two-weekly collection so I think we will see a big benefit here. This does act as a very visual reminder of the sheer volume of nappies we are sending to landfill too.


Cloth nappies do require quite a big upfront investment – it was a little over £200 to buy 18 nappies. However, we should save quite a lot on our weekly shop now we won’t need to buy loads of disposable nappies. Over a two and a half year period ,cloth nappies are estimated to save approx. £500 when compared with disposable nappies. However, if the cloth nappies are tumble dried then this does apparently increase the cost of using them.

Impact on the environment

About 8 million nappies are thrown away every day in the UK and these take hundreds of years to decompose. I genuinely struggle to get my head around those numbers… £8 million nappies a day… that is a truly scary amount!

In 2008, The Environment Agency published a report looking at the relative environmental impact of cloth and disposable nappies. They calculated that using disposable nappies would create approx. 550kg of carbon emissions over a two and a half year period. The same report calculated that cloth nappies would produce carbon emissions of 570kg over the same period if the nappies were washed at 60 degrees C (recommended by the Department of Health) and three out of four loads were dried on the washing line with the fourth load tumble dried.

I was really surprised by these figures as I assumed the cloth nappies would be much better for the environment than the disposable ones. I don’t know exactly how the figure is calculated and therefore to what extent it factors in the impact of nappies going to landfill.

There are also ways to further reduce the carbon emissions of cloth nappies such as washing nappies on a fuller load, using an energy-efficient washing machine and line drying rather than using the tumble dryer. If the nappies are used on a second child then the carbon emissions are significantly reduced too.  

The verdict

I am going to continue with the cloth nappies and batch them up for washing and line dry them to minimise the carbon emissions. The extra washing does create a bit more work but this isn’t a big issue. From a practical perspective, I am not quite sure how we will dry them in winter so we will have to wait and see what works best. My daughter seems quite happy in either type of nappy and (as previously mentioned) they do look rather cute on her. This really shouldn’t matter but when it comes to cuteness and babies sometimes I just can’t help myself! So greener and cuter… definitely a change worth making.

The various facts and figures above are from


Eco friendly food shopping

So the next area of my life that I have looked at as part of my green journey is food shopping. I love the convenience and variety that I can get from the local supermarket but I do have a few niggling doubts about how ethically supermarkets operate. There does seem to have been a lot of bad press lately about how supermarkets treat suppliers (milk prices being the latest story to hit the headlines).

Therefore, in an attempt to reduce my (currently rather large) carbon footprint it seems I need to tear myself away from the temptations of the supermarket and find some alternative providers for the weekly shop .

It seems to me that there are different considerations involved in shopping in a more environmentally friendly way. Sourcing items more locally where possible reduces food miles. Thinking about what we buy, how and where the product was grown and how much processing is involved in making it also has an impact on the environment. As does the type and quantity of packaging that items come in.

In an attempt to buy fresh fruit and vegetables more locally, I have started ordering from a cooperative who sell mainly organic produce which is sourced locally where possible.

Their website is:

They have an online shop so I can still order my shopping at random times of day (or night). This is surprisingly important as I have to fit it in when I get a spare 5 minutes. I say a ‘spare’ 5 minutes although I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a spare 5 minutes when you have two young children! So basically it is extremely useful to be able to shop online as it means I can place the order when I can crowbar 5 minutes into the rest of the day’s activities.

They deliver once a week to a local delivery point from where I can pick the shopping up between certain times on a specified day of the week.

The added benefit of this process is that they only sell fruit and veg when it is in season which means that I am starting to get a bit of a feel for what grows when. I have to confess to having very little awareness of this as the supermarket has lulled me into the false impression that everything grows all year round. It is going to take a little bit of getting used to because we will need to adapt what is on the menu at home to reflect what fresh ingredients are available at different times of year. My cooking does tend to get a little predictable so perhaps this will be a good thing as it may encourage more variety in what we eat as a family.

To supplement the fresh fruit and veg I will be buying locally, I am also going to do my first online shop from the Ethical Superstore.

They seem to sell quite a wide range of organic and ethically sourced goods. They appear to stock mainly non perishable goods and the focus is predominantly on the ethics of the goods as the website’s name would suggest. They have a wide range of products to supplement the fresh fruit and veg that I am buying locally. The main disadvantage of this is that it is a national organisation so the things I am buying are not grown/made local to me. The shopping is also delivered by courier which comes with the usual problems of what happens if we are out when they deliver whereas when I ordered from the supermarket I could choose a time slot on a day that was convenient. I think we can work around this – it simply requires a bit more effort and planning.

As well as shopping online from these two websites, I am also going to start to think about what I buy – can I substitute or even stop buying some things altogether if they can’t be sourced in a way that is environmentally friendly? Is it ok to eat things like bananas if they have to be flown in from abroad? Should I feel guilty if I buy things that come in lots of packaging? If processed goods have a greater carbon footprint then how do I cut down on these without creating a lot of extra work at home cooking everything with raw ingredients? Whilst we do already cook with a lot of fresh ingredients, when I start rummaging in the kitchen cupboards it is surprising how many things we use which are processed.

Based on my experiences so far, I definitely think sourcing our family’s shopping in a more environmentally friendly way is going to cost more. I can live with a small increase in cost though if it is likely to be healthier for us as a family and better for the environment.

I just can’t shake the feeling that in 20 years time when my children are grown up they will be asking me why I didn’t do more to stop climate change. When I am feeling less motivated and my enthusiasm for the green journey is waning I remind myself that I will need to be answerable to my children for the way I live my life now. When I think about it like that, I start to feel I am not doing anything like enough to reduce my impact on the environment.

So, as ever, I think it is time to remind myself that this is a journey to becoming more environmentally friendly and that even small steps which feel insignificant are worthwhile if they take me in the right direction.

In all honesty, I won’t be giving up bananas just yet though…

Does driving a car have to cost the earth? (literally)


Green transport options

Whilst contemplating ways to reduce my carbon footprint, I have been thinking a lot about my car. I currently drive a diesel car with a reasonable MPG. Clearly the most environmentally friendly option would be not to have a car at all. However, I live in a rural location with very little in the way of public transport, I have two very young children and I am required to drive to multiple locations for work (none of which are easily accessible via public transport). Even to my ears this sounds like a list of excuses but this is where my life is at right now. Based on my current circumstances, to stop owning a car, I would probably need to change job and move house. Currently, that feels like too big a change to make. Therefore, I am going to make some changes for now and feel good about that rather than feeling guilty about not getting rid of the car completely. I do have a bike and cycle to some local destinations. I don’t know if my willpower to cycle will hold out in winter when it is cold and dark and icy but over the summer months I have done quite a few journeys by bike that historically I would have done by car.

So the question is, what changes can I make that would be better for the environment whilst still retaining a car? The answer would seem to be an electric vehicle of some sort.

Are electric vehicles better for the environment than conventional cars?

I didn’t know anything about electric vehicles so I have been doing some research. I had a vague idea that I had heard somewhere that whilst emissions from driving an electric vehicle are lower than a conventional car, the emissions during the manufacturing process are higher than a conventional car so over the whole life cycle of the vehicle there isn’t much benefit to the environment in driving an electric vehicle. From what I have read online, it appears that electric vehicles do have a bigger manufacturing footprint than conventional cars. However, whether they are more environmentally friendly or not seems to be about how you source the electricity that you use to power the car when you drive it. If the electricity is generated in a coal fired power station then apparently it is better to just drive a fuel efficient diesel car rather than an electric car. If, however, you source the electricity that you charge the car with from renewable sources such as solar or wind power then even after allowing for the bigger manufacturing footprint then the electric vehicle is better for the environment. I don’t really have any hard scientific evidence to back this up at this stage. This is just based on various articles and websites I have looked at.

So, having decided that I would like to replace my current diesel car with an electric car of some sort, the next question is which type?

Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars – what is the difference?

I was fairly baffled about the various different types of eco-friendly cars on offer. Here is my attempt to give a simple explanation of the key differences based on what I have read online:

HYBRID – uses a petrol or diesel engine like a normal car. However, in addition to this, hybrids also have technology which allows them to store excess power generated by the engine (such as regenerative braking). The excess power is stored in a battery and can then be used to power the vehicle for short distances making it more fuel efficient than a standard diesel/petrol car. The range that a hybrid vehicle can travel on electricity alone is fairly low (1 or 2 miles only).

ELECTRIC VEHICLE – as the name suggests these vehicles run solely on electricity. More room for batteries (no combustion engine) means they generally have a much longer driving range than a hybrid (when using electricity alone) but still a much shorter range than a standard diesel/petrol car.

PLUG-IN HYBRID – this is basically a cross between an electric vehicle and a hybrid. It has an electric motor and a combustion engine. This gives you the option to plug it in and charge it with electricity or alternatively to put petrol in it, or both. The vehicle can run solely on either of these power sources or a combination of the two. The electric motor usually has a range of about 20-30 miles between charges. The combustion engine gives a much longer driving range in addition to the electric-only range.

The amount of petrol/diesel consumed by a standard hybrid is likely to be higher than a plug in electric vehicle (depending on the distances driven etc). Therefore potentially a plug in hybrid can be better for the environment than a standard hybrid if driven in the right way.

One of the major disadvantages of electric vehicles when compared with traditional diesel/petrol vehicles appears to be the time it takes to recharge the batteries which is why a hybrid is attractive. Imagine if you want to drive from London to Scotland (about 400 miles) in an electric vehicle which has a range of say 100 miles. This would potentially require a lot of stops to recharge the batteries and also assumes that there are electric vehicle charging stations at appropriate points along the journey. The benefit of the plug in hybrid is that it has say a 30 mile range on fully electric power plus an additional 200-300 miles using the petrol engine so it can be environmentally friendly on short journeys but gives you the option to cover longer distances when needed without having to stop to charge up.

Part of the decision regarding what type of vehicle is best for the environment is about what type of journeys you make. So the theory behind the plug-in hybrid is that a range of 30 miles would cover the average person’s daily commute. So assuming the majority of travel is local then a plug-in hybrid is good for the environment. If however, you do a lot of longer journeys which would require regular use of the hybrid’s petrol engine then a standard diesel engine with good fuel economy would probably be better for the environment.

I am by no means an expert on this so I apologise if any of the above is inaccurate (please comment and let me know if any corrections are needed). This is just my simplistic, non-technical understanding of the options.

Decisions, decisions…

So the outcome of all of this is that I have just ordered a plug-in hybrid car!

I am getting the car through my employer as this works out as a very good deal for me given that the benefit in kind on electric/hybrid cars is relatively low (5% of the list price of the car for the tax year 2015-16). There is also currently a £5k government grant on the purchase of new electric/hybrid vehicles although from what I can gather this is due to be replaced by a tiered scheme in 2016.

I am actually really excited at the prospect of doing something which will hopefully be a step in the right direction to reducing my carbon footprint (OK and I am excited at the prospect of getting a new car!) I realise it probably won’t impact global climate change in any significant way but it is a small step in the right direction. The car is not going to arrive until November time so I have a little while to wait yet.

In the meantime, I am also going to think about reducing the number of journeys I make, where I travel to and whether I really need to go at all. I can also look at using public transport more often or cycling instead of driving. I think the key to being green is going to be keeping journeys to within the electric powered range of the car. I am also going to think about my driving style more which is another way of conserving energy.

Long term, I would like to think that we could become a one car household (we currently have two vehicles) or even at some point a household with no car at all. Something I would like to look into at some point would also be setting up a car sharing scheme with other people who live nearby.

So, there is still a lot to do and many areas of my life that I need to take a look at in terms of how I can reduce my carbon footprint further but this feels like a small step in the right direction.


How big is my carbon footprint?

To try to better understand the impact of my current lifestyle on the planet, I thought I would try to measure my current carbon footprint.

I have completed the WWF footprint calculator:

This tells me that if everyone had the same lifestyle as me we would need 2.7 planets. Which is not ideal given that we only have one. So I definitely need to make some changes.

I have also filled in another carbon footprint questionnaire:

Based on this questionnaire, if everyone had a similar lifestyle to me we would need 3.7 planets! This questionnaire also calculated my carbon footprint at 13.8 tonnes per year or 6.6GHA (Global Hectares per person per year – apparently this is the amount of biologically productive land and sea required to meet my needs)

So this is all quite depressing and it seems I have rather a lot to do 🙁

The next step is to work out what I need to change to make my lifestyle more eco friendly…



Confessions of an eco sinner!

real nappy

I am feeling the need to confess an eco sin.

Here is the big one. I have two children and use disposable nappies for both. I feel really guilty about this but to date haven’t felt guilty enough to do anything about it. We were given some cloth nappies second hand a while back. However, on the (admittedly few) occasions that we tried them they just seemed to leak straight away. Not sure if this was user error or simply that they had seen better days and weren’t as waterproof as they used to be but the outcome was that we didn’t persist with them.

I realise confessing to this won’t undo the rather large contribution I am currently making to landfill and I feel the need to justify my actions by saying that sleep deprivation made me do it and that I was just too tired to deal with buckets of dirty nappies and the extra washing involved. But some new parents do manage so I guess I could have done if I had wanted to badly enough.

Given that I do now get (some) sleep I think I probably owe it to my rather guilty conscience (and also the planet) to give cloth nappies another go.

Watch this space and let’s see whether my conscience can motivate me to make a change in this part of my life!


Humble beginnings…

loo roll

As a first step, it seemed like a good idea to write a list of environmentally friendly things that I already do (I love a good list!)

However, it turns out that the list is rather short:

  1. I buy recycled loo roll
  2. I use the recycle bins at home to split out food waste, cardboard, glass etc
  3. I use a bag for life when I go shopping (if I remember to take the bags with me – which I don’t always do)
  4. I drive a car which is reasonably fuel efficient

In all honesty that is all that I can think of right now. I am hoping that there is something big which I have forgotten about because that really doesn’t seem like much.

Not a prodigious start but I suppose at least there is plenty of scope for improvement!