A Petrol station in the US has ditched fossil fuels and now charges Electric Vehicles.
When people think of car filling stations, it is generally imagined to be rather smelly with little fuel slicks dashed across the court yard and you end up smelling a little like the fuel you just poured in. This is to be no more at the RS Automotive station in Maryland!
The fuel station in the US has completely ditched fossil fuels and will now begin to use only Electric charging points. It claims to be the first station in the US to do so.
RS Automotives in Maryland had closed for a while as they took on the extensive work to restructure and change everything. The owner Depeswar Doley said the reason for switching over to renewables was due to the way the fossil fuel companies conduct their business and structure their contracts, he claims that they make it hard for businesses such as his to operate.
The filling station, which first opened in 1958, now hosts a top knotch, state-of-the-art 200KW system which allows the station to charge 4 Electric Vehicles at the same time in less than 30 minutes.
The owner Mr Doley said the switch was for a good cause and it would benefit the environment.
The number of Electric Vehicle models are expected to triple in the European Market over the next 3 years with them becoming ever more popular. This is great news all round and with Americans starting to change towards the Electric Vehicle (even if only slightly) then change is coming.
Snow is generally seen as essentially clean and free of pollution but following recent studies of the snow in the Arctic this is far from the truth.
A journal – Science Advances has published results that should shock and cause alarm bells to ring about our current use of plastics and other non sustainable materials (if they weren’t ringing already!).
Snow has generally formed around dust or other airborne impurities but this has now changed. In addition to snow forming as it always has, the snow is now forming around microplastic particles that are carried from near and far. The microplastic particles are small enough to become airborne and travel thousands of miles through wind streams until they combine with the super cooled water and it comes down as snow. As we know snow covers everything from the highest peaks to the beautiful pine tree and everything in between but now within the snow is the plastic which is so beautifully hidden and almost undetectable. It is estimated that 2 tonnes of microplastic fall across France every year. The microplastics are everywhere and even make up some of the pistes upon which we ski.
“Traces of plastic, rubber, varnish, paint and possibly synthetic fibres have been found in snow samples across the world.”
It looks pristine but it is estimated that 12% of the snow maybe be made up of microplastics.
Research has been carried out by Scientists at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research and it has been found that for every litre of snow found in the Arctic there are over 10,000 particles of microplastic. The sheer volume of microplastic particles found in the region which is often viewed as one of the last unpolluted parts of the planet took them by surprise. Other research carried out in the Swiss Alps and parts of Germany has found the concentration to be much higher, in one case from Bavaria it was up to 200,000 particles per litre.
The German scientists collected samples from the remote Svalbard Islands using the most basic of equipment: a simple spoon and a canning jar. These collected samples were transferred to the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. The team melted the samples of snow and poured the water through a fine filter, and then examined the trapped residue with an infrared microscope. According to the scientists the particles were so small that it was incredibly difficult to determine their origin. They found traces of plastic, rubber, varnish, paint, and possibly synthetic fibres. The scientists said that the majority of the particles examined fell into the smallest size range which meant a large amount of the particles were below the detection limit of 11 micrometers. The plastic was also mixed in with plant cellulose and the fur of animals which naturally get taken by the wind.
“Microplastic concentrations in snow were very high, indicating significant contamination of the atmosphere. During its passage through the atmosphere, snow binds airborne particles and pollutants, which are eventually deposited on Earth’s surfaces."
“It’s readily apparent that the majority of microplastic in the snow comes from the air,” head scientist Melanie Bergmann said. “Once we’ve determined that large quantities of microplastic can also be transported by the air, it naturally raises the question as to whether and how much plastic we’re inhaling,”
“We expected to find some contamination but to find this many microplastics was a real shock,” Melanie also said that the team currently don’t know “if the plastics will be harmful to human health or not. But we need to take much better care of the way we’re treating our environment.” Other studies have concluded that we are eating roughly a credit cards worth of plastic every week but this doesn’t come simply from inhalation.
“Large dust particles are transported over distances of 3,500 kilometres from the Sahara to the North Atlantic. This is similar to the distance between our Arctic sites and Europe, which happens to be the most important pathway in terms of wind-driven transport of mercury to the Arctic.”
If the plastics are found in every area of the planet from the remotest and most fragile locations such as the lowest point in the world – the Mariana trench (Where a plastic bag was found at a depth of 10,898 meters) and the pristine snow of the Arctic then it has truly penetrated every facet of nature. The consequences of this are still unknown but eating plastic regularly, and finding them everywhere surely cannot have positive consequences.
What can we do to stop this and fight back against it? The question is not an easy one to fully answer but it is best to start somewhere rather than to wait for a complete answer and do nothing. Thinking about the items you buy and the items you use can make a difference, allowing yourself to use items that are reusable and are not tossed out after a single or several uses can make an easy difference to how much rubbish we make as individuals. Thinking about what we eat, how it was raised and where it comes from can help to reduce our environmental footprint. Thinking about the clothing that we buy can make a difference, funding companies that damage and harm the environment only leads to further problems. Trying to consider a few things about the clothing, the materials that it is made from, are they sustainable? Is it made of natural materials or man made? Will it biodegrade or take centuries to only break down into more and more microscopic particles? Is it resource intensive? Does it use insane amounts of water or heavy industrial chemicals to create? Does it last long enough to justify the energy used to manufacture it? Fast fashion is renowned to fall apart and break after a few months or even a few wears and is a disaster on many fronts.
Taking lots of little steps can make a change and together they can make a difference, talking about the issues and bringing them up in conversation can help spread awareness and enable others to make their own little changes. With enough little changes, together, we can change the world.
The idea is simple, take ‘waste heat’ from the factories, thermal energy plants, industrial cooling systems, abandoned mines, rivers and the London underground and then pipe it into near by homes.
The excess heat generated in different ways by these can be captured and distribute near by to keep buildings warm. The idea is gaining in popularity with councils across the UK as a way for them to drastically cut carbon emissions and provide heat across the area.
The amount of heat generated by the tube in London is well known by those that travel on it. The idea is that now the heat generated by the trains will soon be keeping people and businesses in Islington warm and cosy through the chillier months.
By the end of the year the project will pipe heat from the underground into the homes and businesses above. The idea is part of a growing number of schemes across the country to start using ‘waste heat’ from factories, power plants, rivers and disused mine shafts.
One reason for the step forward in these ideas is that the government has pledged to ban gas-fired boilers from new build houses from 2025. This has caused a flurry of activity to find new sources of renewable heat.
Islington already has schemes using waste energy to heat buildings. They channel heat from the Bunhill Energy Centre, which generates electricity, this heat is sent into council houses, schools and a leisure centre. They are due to expand this project to heat a further 450 homes in the near future.
The tube heating project could be spread across the capital with more boroughs following suite as they realise the benefits of using the cheap, low carbon heat from the underground lines. Another benefit that may come from this is a reduced temperature in the underground networks as the heat is removed.
There are estimates that the waste heat created by the underground is enough to meet 38% of the city’s heating demands. That is huge! The idea that 38% of London could be heated by energy coming from the tube, combining this idea with the other plans could lead to a majority of the city with clean, low carbon heating.
Tim Rotheray, director of the Association for Decentralised Energy believes these heating schemes are a way to help with the climate crisis. He also states ” Almost half the energy used in the UK is for heat, and a third of UK emissions are from heating. With government declaring that we must be carbon neutral within 30 years we need to find a way to take the carbon out of our heating system;”
These ideas are gaining in popularity across the country as councils realise the potential of these schemes to help them provide people with heat and a very effective tool to reduce carbon emissions and help them combat the climate crisis.
“The opportunity that has become clear to the decentralised energy community is the idea of capturing waste heat and putting it to use locally.”
In urban and industrial areas, waste heat is a by product of any cooling system, thermal power plant or heavy industry. The biggest factor and key to harvesting this heat is to distribute and use it locally.
A factory owned by British Sugar is Wissington, Norfolk, pipes the excess heat that it creates from cooking syrup into a neighbouring 18-hectare greenhouse used to grow medical cannabis. It also pumps some of its carbon emissions into the green house to create a carbon heavy environment for the plants to develop better and convert the C02 into oxygen.
Recently Stoke-On-Trent started work on a £52m project to use energy from hot water deposits deep underground. This will allow the water to be naturally heated before it is pumped through the existing network to customers.
The Stoke project is said to be ready by winter of 2020. The council estimates that the scheme will cut carbon emissions by an estimated 12,000 tonnes a year.
A source of energy which lies beneath many British towns and cities comes in the form of water which can hold and retain energy as it is trapped at the bottom of old mines. Engineers in Edinburgh have come up with a plan to create a heat network that uses water found in the enormous disused mines as a giant thermal battery.
They believe the mine water has “massive potential” to help the city achieve its sustainability goals by connecting it to a renewable heating and cooling distribution system.
The mine system beneath the city is at around 500 meters below ground and flooded. The system measures 8km in length by 6km wide.
During the summer months the heat produced by cooling systems and heavy industry could be pumped down into the water where it will gradually raise the temperature of the water. From this during the winter months the water would be pumped to the surface and the ‘low grade’ heat will be extracted in a heat exchanger. The water can then be taken and pumped through a heat pump for heating homes and businesses through out the city.
Engineers in Glasgow have even discovered a heat potential in the River Clyde. The city’s £250m Queen’s Quay regeneration project will use heat pumps to extract heat from the river water before piping it into a 2.5km long network that will pass through 1,400 homes, businesses and public buildings.
It is hoped that it will provide a warm welcome to the 30,000 delegates due to attend the UN climate talks in Glasgow next year.
The fight to reduce carbon emissions across the planet may seem insurmountable but as people bring new ideas to the table and these ideas are shared between us many solutions can be found. Working together and with a combination of programs, projects and ideas we will find a way to achieve what we need to in order to avoid the biggest threats posed by climate change. Reusing ‘waste heat’ is a one of them and will be added to the bigger picture.
If you have ever taken a psychology class then you have probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – This looks at the needs that influence our choices and our behaviours. We have taken and adapted it into a simple idea of getting something you’d like but with a few steps to think about before jumping straight in and buying it new.
In an environmentally friendly economy going straight out to buy a new item every time is not the answer. Working your way through the Eco-Buyerarchy of Needs will allow you to take a more eco-friendly approach to obtaining it. This image allows you to work your way up the pyramid, working your way from ‘Use What You Have’, through to ‘Buy’ and trying to achieve what you’d like from each section before moving on to the next. The goal in using the Buyerarchy of needs is to minimise our impact on the planet by taking other steps before making that purchase which in most occasions will have the most detrimental effect on the planet.
We will take a look at each section of the pyramid starting from the bottom:
Using What You Have
The most eco-friendly thing you can do is keep using what you have. This base level is where the ideal eco-friendly solution is found. Take a moment and think, is there anything you can use that will help to achieve the same goal or purpose? If you don’t have a crazy amount of stuff surrounding you and you know exactly what you have (easier said than done in modern society) then you can maybe reuse or redesign something to fulfil the new purpose. If not have rummage around! For example if you are thinking of getting some new food storage containers and you have several empty jars that are not being used… can you take those jars and use them as your new storage containers? Perhaps you could repurpose a large old box to become a new storage box? If you know what you have it is of no benefit to you if it is broken and in bad condition, another thing to keep in mind is to look after your possessions – don’t use and abuse them. Taking care of what you already own will allow you to use them for an extended period of time and reduce the impact of having to replace them regularly. Use the food and supplies you already own before you think of getting more.
If something that you already own is broken or breaking can you get it fixed rather than purchasing a new one? You wouldn’t throw your push bike away because it has a flat tyre… you’d repair it. Taking that idea into other items in your life is easy enough. Do you really need a new laptop, are you able to reinstall the operating system and then get everything working like new again? If you can’t do it yourself, can you take it to a shop who can? Older laptops can sometimes work well with a less resource hungry (and safer) operating system such as Linux. Another popular example would be wiping your phone and doing a factory reset so you can renew and extend its life. Often we can keep what we already have if we repair part of it to restore it to its former glory, be it an upgraded hard drive in a computer or a new battery in a mobile phone. Some companies have designed products that cannot be repaired by the end user and either need to be sent to the company or an affiliated shop or thrown away – be sure to avoid buying from companies like this the next time you purchase something.
Another way to minimise your environmental impact is to simply borrow or swap the item you require with someone. This will allow you to fulfil your needs without the energy having been expended in making, creating or purchasing the item. Borrowing from friends or family is a common way but the other most common example would be a library. Schemes for bicycles, scooters and even cars are being used in cities for people who do not need to own one of said items. The idea also works for gardening equipment, tools and all sorts of other useful things that are only needed once in a while. Is there something that you already own that you could swap for the item you need/ desire? One great site for passing on things you no longer require (and expect nothing in return for) is freecycle.org not so much of a swapping site as a site that allows you offer items or take items for free. There are sites out there such as swap.com or swapace.com that allow you to exchange and trade items you are looking to get rid of for something that someone is looking to do the same with.
Thrifting or Second Hand
This is a form of buying but generally comes in as a far cheaper option than buying new. Thrift or Second Hand Stores generally have quality used items at a much lower price than at retail. If you know you need a new shirt but aren’t fussy about the make then looking through the range of shirts on the second hand shop rack is a great way to get one for a crazy cheap price. People will often donate nearly new items so you can generally find something that will suit your needs. Other ideas such as garage sales and car boot sales are great but will definitely be more hit and miss – although there often seems to be old bikes so its a great place to pick one up. Another huge benefit of purchasing second hand is that the energy that would be used and the environmental impact that would be created has already been done, further from that you are saving an item from being thrown into landfill. You can read more about the benefits of second hand in this article Making a difference through second hand.
Making an item will require time and materials but can be cheaper and fun. Do you have the skill level required to make what you want? Will it be worth it? Can I repurpose an old sweater into a tote bag or make an old t shirt into a baby grow?
Using resources online is a great way to educate yourself on an incredible range of subjects; if you want to do then there is probably a “How to” guide floating around in cyberspace. Making something for yourself can be much more rewarding, personalised and it can also means that no new energy or materials are used to as you can salvage and use materials you already have.
Only if none of the other options are possible from the Buyerarchy of Needs then it may be time to buy. Make sure to find a retailer or a company that is reputable, preferably one where you are able to see their sustainability policy – how do they produce the items? How do they dispose of trash? Do they make sure their items are made of sustainable materials? Are the items repairable and don’t exploit people through out the process? There are many environmentally conscious retailers and manufactures out there, but beware of greenwashing where companies are jumping on the eco bandwagon to turn a profit. You can read more about greenwashing here – What is Greenwashing?
For our average purchases we may only be able to look at a few of these steps but by looking and trying different routes we are able to reduce our footprint and at least for a minimum increase our awareness.
Waste paper has been one of the most heavily imported American goods into China for years (measured by volume). The Chinese have been accepting American waste paper and sorting it by hand for decades – the richer countries needed to ship it somewhere that the workers are poor enough to sort the waste paper for wages low enough for the industry to turn a profit, China solved this problem.
The waste paper that was shipped over to China was generally heavily contaminated, if it the paper is too contaminated then it cannot be recycled and ends up being dumped or burnt with the general rubbish. The sorting of the recyclable paper is a hard job to get an automated robot to do so as it stands it is still a job that requires human participation.
Waste paper has not been the only thing the western countries have been shipping abroad to China – huge amounts of Aluminium and an variety of different types of plastic also go in the containers.
From the 1980s until recently this system was working very well. China’s rapidly growing economy was shipping out goods across the world and instead of the containers returning to China empty they would be stuffed to the brim with waste ready for China to recycle. Every day roughly 4,000 shipping containers full of recyclables would go from the US alone to take recyclable waste to China to be sorted.
As China has become richer their government is pushing for a greener China and they have decided they no longer wish to be the waste dumping ground of the Western world. In 2017 China announced the ‘National Sword Policy’ in which China has banned 24 types of solid waste, including various plastics and unsorted paper. They have also dropped the acceptable waste contamination levels to no more than 1% with some waste types going as low as 0.3%. This was a huge change to the way things were as it used to be normal to have contamination rates of around 40%! Many of the new requirements the recycling facilities in the western world have been unable to meet, so the waste is rejected and sent back. Some recycling facilities have huge build ups of recyclable materials while they’re waiting for something to be arranged.
From this change to their policy China has refused incredible amounts of contaminated waste and now governments across the world have been struggling to find places to send it. Governments seem unable to get the contamination of their waste to the accepted levels in part due to the education of the general population of what should and should not be recycled and also due to the recycling facilities not preparing the recyclables well enough before being shipped in the containers. Now that China has changed their policy should the governments simply find another country that is poor enough to accept their poorly sorted waste and they’ll take it without too much trouble? Can they raise taxes to pay higher wages to the workers who will sort it? Perhaps another course of action is needed…
Countries such as Indonesia have began to start taking more of the worlds plastic waste since China started refusing more and more. But this is not the answer we should not be sending our rubbish abroad for them to sort out, the change needs to come from us. Education on what we should and shouldn’t do, education on how to decrease the amount we throw out or recycle. We can do this by talking and teaching each other or by programs to help, raising the publics awareness is key to the matter but then so is making large plastic and waste producing companies to change their packaging and methods.
One way of reducing the amount of rubbish we create is to follow the 5Rs. You can read our article about The 5Rs. The 5Rs is an important personal step to take but it is not scratching the surface of what really needs to be done world wide. When following the 5Rs there is a reason and order behind the 5Rs – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. Refusing to take something so it culminates that demand is reduced and production falls is important as is the idea that something can be reused or repurposed. Repurposing a glass jar as another food storage container makes much more sense than all the energy involved in transporting, sorting, crushing, melting, and then forming a new one just to refill with another foodstuff.
For years people have been scavenging for scrap, finding used objects to use again but this was due to the market incentive and cost of raw materials as they were too valuable to throw away due to scarcity of resources. The Romans used to write on wax tablets which they would then wipe clean and reform the wax to be perfect to write on again, they also used to melt down bronze statues to sculpt new ones to save on the labour and resource intensive process involved in mining, refining and smelting the ores to make new bronze. 1,000 years ago Japan used to pulp used paper in order to renew it and make more paper.
It is only a recent thought process that things should be reused because it is the right thing to do. This thought process still has a way to go as it hasn’t penetrated everywhere yet, many people and businesses don’t even see the issue with single use plastics and some people struggle to comprehend the idea of recycling bins. It is a daily occurrence that people continue to place general trash bags into recyclables bins or even into the compostable bins with little regard to what happens after. Out of sight, out of mind.
Back in 1955 Time Magazine published its celebratory headline page “Throwaway Living” the idea was that by being able to simply throw away everything then it would save time “Disposable items cut down household chores”
Why wash up when you can simply toss all your plastic cutlery, plates and cups away and even the BBQ is disposable…
This was good news for the companies who were running deposit schemes which were common at the time, people were now able to purchase items made cheaper and they would simply toss them after they had finished. The companies to operate lower costs per unit and wouldn’t need to recover the containers as they previously had. The glass bottles that were common in the fizzy drinks industry could now be replaced with plastic bottles which were cheaper to make and simply trashed after use. This moved the responsibility of trash from the producer to the consumer who was now in charge of what to do with their trash. Many elected to do nothing but put it in a bin or on the floor.
As deposit schemes dwindled and fell out of fashion, recycling was no longer to be done for financial and cost reasons it became the responsibility of local governments who often only offered basic recycling facilities for people who were motivated enough to make the effort to use them. Individual responsibility was now abound and recycling was now about making ourselves feel better than for commercial reasons.
Research has been carried out that finds that people who know they can recycle the items they use tend to act and be more wasteful. The research paper from Boston University can be found below.
If recycling was cost free then it would be easy but obviously it is not.
The economist Michael Munger argues that it is a bad idea to leave waste disposal to the free market. If you were to charge people the actual cost of what it costs to safely dispose of their rubbish then many more people would be tempted to dump it illegally instead, this is much worse in terms of both environmental damage and cost to clean up the mess. This happened in the UK when the local council decided that a recycling centre needed to started charging for people to dump their rubbish and recyclables. The council found that the people were either driving into the next county to get rid of their rubbish for free or they were illegally fly tipping their rubbish. The costs for the council actually increased due to their added expenses on cleaning up the fly tipping.
If we charge people they chuck it, if we use taxes to subsidise the cost of waste disposal, we risk incentivising the behavour the 1955 times article spoke highly of.
How do we convince people that their waste should be recycled (as a minimum)? One solution would be moral persuasion, as in a series of adverts aiming to highlight the problems with disposing of it as we are, educating people to the positives and negatives of the situation. This also creates issues as spoken about in this article for the US think tank The Cato Institute.
Michael Munger speaks about comparing the costs and benefits of recycling each different type of waste that we throw – glass bottles, tin cans, single use plastics etc against the other possible ways of disposal.
Modern, well-designed landfills are nowadays pretty safe, and are able to harness the methane that they produce for electricity.
Along with this modern waste incinerators can be a clean-ish source of power production but still not recommended.
If we treat recycling as a moral issue and question then it will bring us full circle back to the issue of China’s recycling policy. Reducing the amount of different things recycled would allow for easier sorting and become more efficient at the things that we actually aim to recycle but this most definitely feels like a step backwards and a step in the wrong direction.
Taiwan – which was onced dubbed “garbage island” has now reversed this and has one of the highest recycling rates in the world. Taiwan has managed to hit recycling rate of around 55% which has lead to wide spread praise. Bravo Taiwan!
How on earth did Taiwan achieve this? They ensured that waste disposal was high in the minds of the public consciousness. If Taiwan are able to achieve such a turn around then why can’t everyone else? In short they could, if the right steps were taken and money was spent.
Can we use a systemic model that allows regulators to encourage new business models which use ideas such as bottle deposit schemes which make manufactures have incentives and helps their logistics if they recycle their products. Scotland will be soon introducing a scheme that allows consumers to return various forms of plastic drinks bottles, glass and cans for 20p per item. Excellent!
The idea and phrase “the circular economy” is banded around as a solution to the problem, it basically means that everything follows the 5Rs and a very minimum amount of things end up in the landfills. You can read about the circular economy here.
Maybe we can rely on technology to get us out of this mess we have created, one UK firm is claiming to be able to turn mixed plastic products – which are notoriously difficult to recycle – back in to the oil they came from, it then resells this oil to the industry which can then use the oil as fuel or to male more plastic – hardly an answer but it is better than the plastics ending up in landfill or finding its way into the rivers and landscape that surrounds us affecting both humans and animals alike. One major issue is that it still uses plastic and doesn’t aim to decrease our dependancy on it, if we can simply turn it back into the oil it came from then why not use that single use plastic item that might just end up in nature.
Other technological solutions have been trialed such as smart trash cans in Australia. The idea is that you throw in your rubbish and the machine will then sort it accordingly into the correct recycling category. This coupled with huge efforts to reduce the amount of items we use, reduce the amount of things we throw away and the state of the art sorting facilities that are using robots, lasers, magnets and air jets to sort out the recyclables into their different groups. These efforts can have some effect but it doesn’t resolve the issues that lie beneath, it merely deals with the issues that are created through plastic use.
None of the ideas that are put forward can yet compete with the cost of a low-cost labourer but hopefully by countries choosing to close off this option it will spur the industry and governments into new and exciting innovations that are so desperately needed.
The 5R’s have been around for a while although they originally started as the 3R’s they have changed slightly to incorporate 2 new ones.
There is an order to the 5R’s and it is there for a reason – They start in order of importance and work there way down. The idea is that they will help you on your way to reducing your waste, why not start at the top and work your way down and see if you can follow them all?
Refuse – First up on the list is refuse. Simply don’t take it… then it will never begin it’s product life cycle, the demand will fall and they will make less and hopefully none. There is often some mild confusion between refuse and reduce; I will help to clear that up. To refuse is to say no to things people offer you but you don’t need; things that you didn’t ask for or don’t really want. This also includes things that damage you, your family, the environment and that are unsustainable. Vote with your money and refuse to buy them, show the companies that their damaging products are of no interest and will not turn a profit, if the item or product does not turn a profit then it will not be made. Simple.
Refuse to use single use plastics of all varieties – plastic bags, straws, single use water bottles, plastic cutlery to make a start. This can take a little planning as if you don’t have your reusable water bottle or cutlery you may end up a little stuck.
This one may involve a little looking around but it is simple enough – refuse to buy harmful products such as chemical cleaning products, buy an Eco version which does the same job but without the damaging chemicals. Even better than purchasing cleaning products is to make your own. Decent well tested recipes for home made cleaning products can be found all over the web, we will soon add our favourites in an article.
If your country still uses plastic grocery bags – just say no. Refuse to take the plastic bag, they are terrible for both animals and the environment. Thankfully some countries have banned the use of plastic bags and replaced them with reusable bags or bags made of vegetable cellulose, which is better but still not as good as a truly reusable bag.
Something less common but still important is to think about those freebies that companies happily give away in order to remind you of them, that pen you’ll never use, the bag you don’t need etc. Just because it is free it doesn’t mean you need to take it. If it is of use to you then by all means take it but often it isn’t but the alluring fact that it is free is enough for us to take it.
Refuse to buy intensively farmed products that negatively impact the environment and health. Buy local produce if you can – farmers markets are a great direct line to the producer. You can ask direct questions about their produce without having to go through a middle man. When going to a farmers market be sure to bring your own reusable bags for all the tasty food you’ll get.
Reduce – To simply use less. This means less energy, less heat, less water and maybe renewing your old phone or laptop. Think about what you buy and use, could you do with less of it or use it more efficiently?
Simple things like changing your light bulbs to energy efficient LED bulbs will not only reduce your electricity consumption and electricity bill but make your home more efficient and the LED bulbs will last for such a long time they will pay themselves back.
Another energy positive technique is the use of solar panels, this is more complex than simply changing a light bulb but should be a serious consideration for anyone looking to save some energy and become more eco-friendly. It is a great first step which may eventually lead to an off grid home if developed far enough.
Water consumption has some fairly easy ones to change for example turning the tap off while you brush your teeth or turning the shower off as you lather up. Perhaps less easy to follow for everyone but surprisingly your diet can have the biggest effect on your water consumption. We will explore that idea in a future post.
Heat usage and loss can be solved through insulation, insulation can be used to keep the house warmer or cooler depending on your climate needs. This will reduce your energy consumption and increase your overall house hold efficiency whilst also saving you money.
Other things such as not accepting junk mail through either a sticker on your mail box or by removing yourself from junk mail mailing lists is an simple way to reduce unnecessary use of paper, time and effort.
Sometimes keeping hold of an existing item will easily reduce your consumption and ecological footprint in the world. Do you really need that new phone or will you existing one do? Perhaps all you need to do is factory reset it and update it to get the performance back. Some brands are now moving to sustainable phones for example Fair Phone allow you to replace and upgrade each individual component as necessary. Can you simply upgrade your laptop with a new harddrive, new RAM to give it a new lease of life rather than binning it?
Reuse, If you do purchase something make sure it is long lasting, reusable or both.
A reusable water bottle from a company such as HelloBottl is a great idea to allow you to have a long lasting water bottle that is both functional, environmentally friendly and looks cool.
If you are a coffee drinker then you should definitely get your self a reusable coffee cup, some companies will offer you a discount if you bring your own, if they don’t it is definitely worth asking and raising the question. The amount of single use coffee cups that are used everyday is simply staggering.
Some other simple yet effective way to remove harmful single use plastics consumption from your life is to use reusable shopping bags – make to sure to keep it some where so that you will think to take it every time. If you forget your bags then use a paper one or ask for one of their old cardboard boxes which are often found near the till for that exact purpose, if worst comes to worst carry your purchases in your hands and pockets.
It is always useful to keep a compact set of cutlery in your bag and a straw. Collapsible straws can be bought fairly cheaply and they take up next to no room in your bag.
The inital cost of purchasing a reusable waterbottle or coffee cup may seem out of proportion to the cost of the single use but it will quickly repay its self with self satisfaction as you do not through it away everyday.
Repurpose objects from one use to another. This requires some thinking and occasional craft but the internet is an abundant resource for repurposing ideas.
Repurposing an object can be rewarding as you give it a new life and it stays with you.
The first example that springs to my mind is the use of jam-jars. Jam-jars can be used to store food in the cupboard or fridge. Jam-jars are super useful. You can even comfortably use them as glasses to drink from. * Another simple idea is to use old cardboard boxes to store unused household items – this is one people do without even thinking about it. A more unusable idea could be to use old foam mats for furniture foot pads to protect your floor from scratches, why not use that old foam mat as a tent door mat? The uses for old items is as large as your imagination allows.
Recycling – Coming in at the bottom but definitely still very important. If the other 4 options haven’t worked then recycle. Recycling is an important factor is sustainable living but it is not the solution to our problems. Recycling is good because it substantially reduces the energy involved with creating an object and stops it from going to landfill (for at least one product cycle) but it is less efficient than simply finding a new use for an item . Recycling is the most widely known but frustratingly it is still not followed everywhere.
When starting to use the 5R’s recycling is probably the easiest one to do and the others will come with a little time. Maybe you missed the opportunity to refuse or reduce because you weren’t there on your green journey just yet – once you start to notice the missed opportunities then that is half the battle to correcting the issue. Recycling is a great way to see all the things you toss and throw away and it gives you a chance to rethink your future purchases.
Most towns in Europe have reasonable recycling facilities but some better than others.
When looking to recycle it is important to make sure you place the right things in the right places – you’d be surprised at how many people place non biodegradable plastic bags into the compost….
Recycle all the basics you can, paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass.
Fabrics are an issue when it comes to disposal as we covered in this article, donating them to passing them on to friends or family is best but charity shops or recycling is better than landfill. Even old, holey and ripped clothing can be used as rags.
Taking your old electronics that can not be sold or refurbished to a recycling centre is important to ensure they are disposed of properly.
It is not simple when you start to think about all this but the sooner you do the better. When you realise all the things you use and throw away on a daily basis it is quite incredible but as you start to notice and build up awareness it all becomes easier and more manageable. All the best on your journey to minimise your waste through the 5R’s.
If you want to make a difference in the world but don’t really know where to start; buying second hand can be an easy one. People have more power than they know, it is a powerful one and rather easy; it is to simply vote with your money. Voting with your money is a sure way to make companies listen and change their ways, if no one is buying their product then why would they continue to make it?
Our society in general is driven by consumerism, one of the best ways to benefit your own pocket, save the environment, and satisfy those shopping urges for unique and wonderful things is to shop second hand.
Car Boot Sales, Charity Shops, Second hand shops, and all other things used goods offer the chance to use items which no longer serve the initial buyer but are often in perfectly good working/ wearable order and just need a new home for another long life. By doing this it benefits you, your pocket and the environment
Much More Affordable
When you shop in second, charity shops, car boot sales and other second hand places your money stretches much farther. On average used products are generally around 50% cheaper and clothing even more so – a couple of pounds, dollars or the like will get you a new top, trousers or dress. This allows you to put your money in other places… extra fruit and veg perhaps, learning to surf, rock climb or another new skill! (Or as you prefer!)
Lean Green Bargain Hunting Machine
One major and hugely notable benefit of searching out the pre-owned and pre-loved is that all the energy necessary to create it has already been expended. It also keeps perfectly usable items out of landfill! These items will generally be cheap and can help even the slightest of budgets seem bountiful. Incredible amounts of perfectly good items are thrown away everyday which negatively impacts the environment and unnecessarily goes to landfill sites. When purchasing something from new make sure it is of high quality and will last – like this when you pass it on to a friend, family or charity shop then it can take on another life and serve them too.
Recycle and Reuse
The second hand giving goes both ways, it can come to you and it comes from you. You are not the end of the line and many people would be delighted to take ownership of the things you deem no longer necessary, beautiful or useful. Charity shops and second hand shops will happily receive items which are still usable/ wearable which they can then sell to further their causes and projects; The act of recycling supports a greener economy and a green movement.
The Thrill of The Hunt
At a charity shop who knows what hidden gems may be found hidden in the rack. Having a rough idea of what you want is great and then finding something suitable is truly excellent. Having found that fantastic item at an unbeatable price is a good feeling and then knowing that it will now have a new home and a new life is great. Second hand shopping is very rewarding and can be very productive. Second hand items are often under priced and finding yourself something that you love, supports the green economy and didn’t heavily impact the environment is wonderful.
Keeping Your Money In The Community
Generally speaking if you purchase local and you purchase second hand then your money won’t travel too far away and will stay within the local community. If you purchase from one of the larger charity shops (which some argue have lost their way a little) then it may go further afield but this is something to bare in mind but it still goes to a good cause. Keeping your money local benefits the local community, local businesses and local people. It is often genuinely appreciated as it goes towards helping somebodies way of life or supporting a project rather than travelling to an offshore bank account where it pays no tax and helps no one. They say when you buy from a local small business a real person smiles!
You Can Spot Quality
Since the majority of the merchandise you will come across has already had some use (sometimes brand new items can be found) you can see the quality, what lasts and what does not. This is practical and affordable and helps us stay away from fast fashion which should not be purchased in the first place.
Often as you search through the loved items brand name goods can be found, this is not important for everyone but it is important for many. Many people love an item dearly for a brief time then toss it away, this mentality needs to change but that is for a discussion another time! Brand name goods can be found cheaply at bargain prices, nobody knows you only paid £4 for it rather than the £60 normally asked for!
Consumer Driven Economy
Gratification though shopping is part of our current (Unsustainable) economy and will be for some time to come. Many companies offer cheap, unsustainable and environmentally damaging items to help us fulfil this need. Change is in the air and companies are starting to take note of the changing consumer mood and movement. As people become more aware of the difference they can make and the impact they themselves directly have on the environment companies will start to change with them. Some companies will be doing this because it is what they truly believe should be done and it is what will benefit the many and not the few. Then some companies will do it for to ensure their profit stays high and their share holders happy. As immoral companies shift be sure to watch out for “Green Washing” which can be found out about here.
Polyester is cheap and readily avaliable in the fashion industry, it does how ever come with a larger price tag than is initially obvious.
Polyester is wrinkle free, it does not need to be iron or pressed to maintain its shape and surface. Polyester fabric is easy to wash and quick to dry which is useful for regions that have particularly cold or wet weather. High quality polyester will last well, however the vast majority of polyester on the market is of poor quality and will not last more than a few wears as it sheds a large amount of fibres every time it is washed. It is mainly used by manufacturers because it is a cheap alternative to natural fibres. Polyester is a very common fabric within fast fashion which has very little to no regard for the environment and their impact upon it.
Polyester is a synthetic petroleum based fibre, it is therefore made from a carbon-intensive non-renewable energy resource. Petroleum products are used to make the fibre and also used to generate all the energy required for its manufacture. To meet the worlds demand for this fabric we use around 70 million barrels of oil each year. It takes around 200 years for polyester to break down in the environment and even then it only breaks down into micro plastic which persists in the eco-system for an unknown time period. it is said that synthetic garments are the biggest source of micro plastic pollution in the oceans because one wash of a polyester garment can remove up to 1,900 fibres which are transported directly into the water system and eventually into the ocean.
Although polyester is less energy intensive than nylon to produce it still requires more than double the energy of conventional cotton. The production of polyester uses harmful chemicals, including those that are known carcinogens, and if put into the water and air untreated they are incredibly damaging to the surrounding environment causing significant damage.
The majority of polyester is produced in countries such as China, Bangladesh and Indonesia where environmental regulations are particularly poor allowing unscrupulous companies to flaunt regulations and pollute the environment. Untreated pollution is often discharged into waterways and released into the atmosphere causing incredible damage to the communities, peoples health, and the surrounding natural environment. The production of polyester uses less water than that of natural fibres, however polyester cannot be dyed using low impact and natural dyes. This leads to potential impact much more detrimental than that of natural fibres.
One of the most positive features that come from polyester is that is it completely recyclable and it is also possible to use recycled plastics (PET) to create it. This means we can use existing plastics already created with out having to use virgin petroleum stocks. There are many new companies that are recycling plastics to make polyester fabrics suitable for swimwear and sportswear. Some companies have even taken to recycling existing polyester clothing to create new polyester.
Polyester is a big offender in terms of the environmental impact created. Cheap polyester has to be the worst when it comes to the cost of fast fashion but it if polyester finds its way into your wardrobe make sure it comes from recycled polyester or recycled plastics to reduce its impact. Try to avoid its use in T-shirts and general day to day clothing but it can be suitable in rain wear, sportswear, and ski wear. When it comes to getting rid of your polyester clothing make sure to source a recycling centre that excepts them or donate them to charity.
It is often not seen and slips by unnoticed but that extra tag stating that it is ring-spun or combed cotton makes a big difference when compared to regular cotton. Both ring-spun and combed cotton are said to be softer and feel nicer, but why?
How Are They Made?
Regular cotton is made by taking the soft vegetable fibres and twisting them together to make yarn, the yarn is then woven together to make the material. Most of the industry standard T-Shirts made by major cotton mills provide only regular cotton T-shirts. Regular cotton is available fairly cheaply make which also means it is very popular among manufactures of Fast Fashion.
Ring-Spun Cotton is made by twisting and thinning the cotton strands to make them incredibly fine, soft ropes of cotton fibres. Ring-Spun cotton T-Shirts are more durable and last longer than their regular counterparts.
Combed cotton goes through some extra processes before the yarn is made. The combed cotton is unsurprisingly “combed” which means it brings all the fibres parallel to each other and this in turn removes all the shorter fibres. By removing these short fibres the combed cotton is created with only the longest finest remaining fibres which gives the combed cotton it’s lovely feel and high sheen. Also because the fibres are longer they are stronger and less likely to break leading to a longer life of the product. If the cotton is organic then the fibres are longer (due to them being picked by hand rather than machine) and this again leads to an increase in the quality and life span of the clothing.
Which Is For Me?
If you are curious to tell the difference you can pick them up – the ring-spun cotton will feel a little heavier to the touch than the regular cotton (even though it isn`t), and the combed will have a beautiful sheen across the fabric due to its long fibres.
So… which is better? We believe that if you are environmentally conscious and intend to keep the T-Shirt for as long as possible then we’d highly recommend the combed cotton. The ring-spun and combed will also feel more comfortable and last longer providing longevity of the product that will out last regular cotton clothing.
At Charmio we only use organic ring-spun and organic combed cotton in our products to ensure the highest quality we can. We don’t over price them as many do as we believe high quality garments should be affordable and shouldn’t cost the earth.
So in short Greenwashing is giving the false sense that a company and/ or its products are actually good for the environment or better for the environment than they actually are. It can be explained as – “the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.”
Greenwashing is a simple play on the original term of “whitewashing,” which means using misleading information to gloss over bad behavior.
How Green Washing Works
Greenwashing is also known as “green sheen,”. Greenwashing is an attempt by companies to make the most of the growing trend in the publics growing awareness and demand for products that minimise their environmental footprint and impact, they are environmentally sound whether that means they are healthier, more natural, free of chemicals, recyclable or are more efficient and less wasteful of natural resources.
The term Green Washing originally comes from around the 1960s when the hotel industry came up with one of the most obvious and well known examples. If you have ever stayed in a hotel you will probably have seen it. The hotel places a notice in the hotel room that they care for the environment and they do this by asking the guests to reuse their towels and to only place them on the floor when they want them replaced. The idea they put forward is that this would help to reduce water consumption and help save the environment… Of course this is true but it is not their driving reason for this practice – it is simply about cutting hotel laundry costs and reducing the amount of time the maid spends in each room. You could look around the room at all the individually wrapped items and single use plastics to know they sadly don’t care about the environment or water consumption except for where it hits them in the pocket. Although this practice isn’t for the benefit of the environment it is worth following as we do not need our towels and linen replaced everyday.
Examples of Greenwashing
As just mentioned above hotels are an obvious example with the hotel towel washing green sheen. They carry on with the practice to this day and still push that it is for the environment.
More and more companies have been re-branding themselves as champions of the environment, giving the impression that they actually care when they truly don’t.
For example, recently, some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, such as conventional energy companies have attempted to re-brand themselves as environmentally caring and conscious companies. Another big example is the major car manufacturer Fiat Chrysler were facing huge fines for their car emissions and to get around he EU emissions limits and avoid the real problem of having high emissions in their vehicles. They have decided to pool it’s fleet of cars with Tesla’s. By paying Tesla hundreds of millions of dollars to allow them to pool their vehicles together it lowers Fiat Chrysler’s emissions per vehicle therefore creating the image that its cars are better for the environment than they truly are. This allows them to bring down the CO2 level per car so that it’s emissions will fall back below the EU limit and they therefore avoid heavy fines. Other green washing techniques are to rename, re-brand, and repackage. Nothing inside the product may have changed but by doing so they may reach new Eco-conscious customers as they appear more wholesome, free of chemicals or better than other competing brands.
The National Trust in the UK does a lot of good things and it is re-positioning itself as caring about the environment, making products from recycled materials, less packaging but when the products are arriving in the warehouse they are coming heavily wrapped in layer upon layer of plastic on the pallets. They may look good on the shelves but behind the scenes nothing has changed and the environmental face of the company is only facing the customer. The rest has remained the same.
Companies can also be greenwashed via press releases, news articles and television adverts about their new clean green enegry or about them minimising their pollution efforts. Even though they may state that they are a clean green company the efforts of this may or may not be true. One positive company to note is Patagonia who seem to be truly involved and pushing forwards with their eco policies as well as paying staff to work on eco projects around the world. We at Charmio are doing our best to stay green and clean through our use of fabrics and production processes. While our impact maybe insignificant compared to the others we believe it is important for everyone to play their part no matter what size. While some companies making real concerted efforts and meaningful commitments to green initiatives and projects shout about it, some don’t and the ones not really doing so much seem to shout the loudest.
Green Peace have said one of the most common Green Washing practices are when an inherently polluting or unsustainable company shout about an environmental program or product while at its core the business continues with its bad practices.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers several illustrations of greenwashing on its website, which details its voluntary guidelines for deceptive green marketing claims.
A plastic package containing a new shower curtain is labeled “recyclable.” It is not clear whether the package or the shower curtain is recyclable. In either case, the label is deceptive if any part of the package or its contents, other than minor components, cannot be recycled.
An area rug is labeled “50% more recycled content than before.” The manufacturer increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%. Although technically true, the message conveys the false impression that the rug contains a significant amount of recycled fiber.
A trash bag is labeled “recyclable.” Trash bags are not ordinarily separated from other trash at the landfill or incinerator, so they are highly unlikely to be used again for any purpose. The claim is deceptive since it asserts an environmental benefit where no meaningful benefit exists.
What Can Be Done?
Greepeace launched its Stop Greenwash campaign in 2009 to call out companies green washing and with the aim of helping consumers make better choices.
Customers need to be able to look beyond the green advertising and noise making of the companies and differentiated between who is trying to make money and who actually wants to make change. Read the ingredients list – what are they actually putting in there? Palm Oil? If so why and where is it coming from. Palm Oil is another can of worms that needs to be looked at in details. What are they using to make their clothes? Organic materials? Bamboo? Recycled materials? If not why not? Can you directly ask an employee of the company? Look for labels that have been vetted by a reliable third party. Just because a label states that it is “made with organic ingredients” or “all-natural” this does not mean that the product actually qualifies for Certified Organic status.
Some labels placed on products can be suspect. If you do come across a label that you deem to be suspect then you can check it out on the Ecolabel Index, this is a global directory of eco-labels which at the time of writing tracking 463 different eco-labels in 197 countries across 25 different industries. This is a useful online resource that provides information on which company or group i behind each certificate and whether or not independant third party assessments are required.
The FCC guidelines can be useful to consumers who seek to differentiate real green companies from greenwashed:
Packaging and advertising should explain the product’s green claims in plain language and readable type in close proximity to the claim.
An environmental marketing claim should specify whether it refers to the product, the packaging, or just a portion of the product or package.
A product’s marketing claim should not overstate, directly or by implication, an environmental attribute or benefit.
If a product claims a benefit compared to the competition, the claim should be substantiated.
Key Points To Takeaway
Greenwashing is an attempt to capitalise on the growing demand for products that are environmentally sound.
Greenwashing can convey a false impression that a company or its products are environmentally sound.
Truly green products back up their claims with facts and details.
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