The data is in – one of the best things you can do for the planet is to go plant-based in your diet. The authors of a 2018 study found that avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest thing that individuals can do to reduce their environmental impact on the planet and that, without global meat and dairy consumption, farmland use could be reduced by 75% without anyone needing to go hungry.
Of course, there are nuances – switching from mass-produced beef products that are being shipped from halfway around the world, to mass-produced vegan products also being shipped from halfway around the world probably won’t make as much difference as you might hope. Shopping local and seasonal is important – but cutting down on your meat and dairy consumption is something that most of us can attempt and feel good about.
Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash
I went vegan back in 2015. As an annoying little animal rights activist, I’d gone vegetarian at the age of 11 after years of pestering my long-suffering mother about my desire to stop eating animals. This meant I had a 28-year gap between no longer eating animals and no longer eating their products. For a long time, I would never have considered the switch but, by the time the 2000s rolled around, I kinda knew, in a back-of-my-mind way, that if I was serious about fighting climate change, going vegan was a good idea. But the cheese! The omelettes! The Galaxy bars! How would I cope?
Well, how I coped was to gradually cut one dairy product at a time from my diet, promising myself that, if I found anything too difficult to switch out, I’d give myself a break and leave it in. This slowy-slowly method worked pretty well for me and it might work for you too – so here’s how I did it.
The first step I took was to cut out cow’s milk, which I used to have on my breakfast cereal.
No matter how you slice it, cow’s milk is riddled with problems. Methods of obtaining milk from cows are barbaric, to say the least, and of course we all know that cows' ruminant belching and their rather over-active bottoms are a big problem for our carbon levels. Plus lots of people (maybe unsurprisingly!) find it hard to digest the milk that is made for another species’ babies. Fortunately, there are lots of dairy-free milks available everywhere now, so it’s easy to make a switch.
Having said that, you might want to avoid almond milk as well, given that almond farming is connected to drought in California – the steep rise in demand for almond milk has played a part in that.
Instead, I’d suggest using oat milk. Oats are grown here in the UK, so you should be able to find some local brands – or you might even consider making your own, which is cheap, easy and saves on packaging.
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
I found that it took me a little while to get used to the taste of nut milk – but only a couple of weeks. Milk is easier for me than for some as I don’t drink tea or coffee – but there are lots of options if you need milk in those drinks. My friend Jenni, who is an ardent tea lover, swears by the Koko brand of coconut milk for her tea. Others might like the Alpro Barista range.
The next step I took on my vegan mission was to cut out milk chocolate. Now, six years later, this seems completely insane to me as step number two. But back then, I wasn’t really all that bothered about chocolate. I was much more of a crisps and peanuts snacker than a chocolate girl, so I figured that this would be relatively easy. And, indeed, it was.
I realise some of you may not have this experience, but for me, it was simple to buy a packet of ready-salted or prawn cocktail crisps (watch out – many salt and vinegar, cheese or meat-flavoured crisps have milk in them, annoyingly) instead of a Star Bar when I fancied an indulgent treat.
What I wasn’t bargaining for was how totally addicted to vegan chocolate I would become!
In my infinite wisdom, I decided that, since I wouldn’t be able to pop to a corner shop and buy a KitKat whenever I wanted, it would be better to have a stash of vegan chocolate in the house, for when the urge took me.
Turns out, when you keep chocolate in the house as standard, the urge to eat it comes fairly often...
My Addiction to Chocolate and How I Beat It is a whole different blog for a whole different day but, for the purposes of this blog, I shall share what I’ve learned about the best vegan chocolate on the market. Hint: A lot of the chocolate deliberately marketed as vegan isn’t that great. But 100% chocolate has no milk in it, so manages to be vegan without even trying. Dark chocolate flavoured with mint, orange or salt is also usually vegan, although Lindt do insist on putting milk in everything for some reason.
My three top tips for vegan chocolate, whether it got that way deliberately or accidentally, are the Moser Roth brand from Aldi – I especially recommend the mint and sea salt flavours – Booja Booja’s award winning truffles – especially the salted caramel – and Nomo’s salted and caramel bars.
I guess even though I switched to chocolate, I’m still addicted to salt!
When I first considered turning vegan, I wondered why I would need to cut out eggs if I was only buying free range ones. Well, free range eggs are usually still produced in hellish conditions. Additionally, it is usually the case that male chicks – who obviously can’t lay eggs – are killed in very unpleasant ways shortly after birth as they aren’t profitable. While this might not be an environmental issue, it’s still something I have no desire at all to support, so I decided to send my money elsewhere. And indeed, while we all know about the evils of cattle farming, chicken farming isn’t great for the planet either, as chickens are fed with soy, which is produced by deforestation, which of course is a big factor in the reduction in biodiversity that is driving climate change.
Having said all that, eggs are a great source of protein for vegetarians. So what can vegans replace that protein with? I get my protein from various sources, including:
• the home-made hummus my fella makes
• bean salads (we buy dried pulses in bulk and cook them in the pressure cooker so we're not going through load of cans or plastic)
• dark green, leafy vegetables
• lentils made into delicious dahls and spaghetti bols...
and, I must admit, from the occasional Oowee Vegan burger, which probably isn’t really doing the planet any favours but is delicious.
If you really can’t imagine a life without eggs, you could look into buying organic or slaughter-free eggs, both of which are better than free-range for different reasons.
Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash
The next things I ticked off my food list were things like margarine, pesto, mayo – non-vegan bits and bobs I had been buying in jars. As my non-vegan items ran out, I replaced them with vegan versions... and quickly discovered that none of them tasted any different at all. Literally, no difference. Free-from pesto is just as delicious as the stuff with the Parmesan in it. Vegan mayo tastes identical. The Naturli' Vegan Block tastes like butter. Milky ice cream can be replaced with Swedish Glace, which I swear is more delicious than the non-vegan stuff. Peanut butter, thank goodness, is already vegan.
Of course, buying ready-made-things-in-jars ain’t great for the planet so, if you can, think about making your own. Pesto is an easy place to start... My fella and I go foraging for wild garlic leaves every spring (they are easily found in Bristol) and then whip up enough delicious sauce to freeze and last all year. We use nuts instead of cheese and it’s great. I’ve not yet tried making vegan mayo, but according to this recipe it looks pretty damn simple, so I might give it a go and report back.
The last thing I gave up was cheese. Oh, how addicted to cheese I used to be! Port Salut, strong cheddar, Brie, feta – even dirty stuff like Tuc cheese crackers and tubs of supermarket own-brand Philadelphia. If you gave me a packet of crackers and a box of cheese, I didn’t need anything else for hours. I was dreading giving up cheese – and I think it’s probably the thing that most people considering going vegan feel they can’t live without. Small wonder, since there is plenty of research out there to suggest that cheese is genuinely addictive.
In reality, I found that, having successfully stopped eating all those other non-vegan items, cheese wasn’t as hard as I feared. I replaced my cheese and crackers snack fix with crackers and hummus. I cook with nutritional yeast, which adds that cheese flavour. And there are, now, lots of really good vegan cheeses on the market. I rate the Violife range, particularly their feta knock-off. Although, if what you want is locally produced vegan fare, packaged in recyclable cardboard (of course you do!) then check out Bath Culture House, which has a great range of soft vegan cheeses that can be bought in Better Food. Their activated charcoal flavour is my favourite.
If you feel inspired, give it a go and see how you get on. Don’t punish yourself – if you can only cut out one or two things, well, that’s better than none at all. I slip sometimes and have a bit of ‘real’ cheese or a milky crisp – although, interestingly, I usually regret that as I have become very sensitive to the flavour of milk and think it’s pretty claggy and horrible these days – and that’s OK. None of us can save the planet on our own. If 80% of us went 80% vegan, however, we would make a huge difference.
Do you have any vegan tips? If so, post them in the chat below.
One of the first blogs I wrote for Easier Than You Think was about how to have a greener shower. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to make the rest of my bathroom more sustainable. However, I’ve found that having greener teeth is pretty challenging - there are some fairly duff products out there. Of course, one option for going green in the gums is to stop brushing and flossing, but I don't think that's the kind of green anyone really wants!
Given that August is self-care month at WBCA, I thought I’d share some of the options I’ve learnt about for more sustainable smiles.
Photo by Gabriel Silvério on Unsplash
You’d probably have to have been living under an unsustainable rock not to have heard of bamboo toothbrushes by now, as these little buggers have been around for quite a while. There are various brands on offer these days.
Why are bamboo brushes better for the planet? Well, the plastic ones don’t biodegrade, so will sit in landfill until the end of time. In contrast, while the bristles on these bamboo babies are still plastic, the handles themselves are made from sustainable bamboo (hence the name) and so will biodegrade when you’re done with them. This article from the Independent lists what they say are the six best bamboo brushes on the market.
I used these brushes for a while but found that they didn’t leave my teeth feeling very clean. Plus when I lived in a house with a slightly damp bathroom, the wooden handles started to rot, which wasn’t great. Additionally, when I hit 40 and had to have about six of my teeth filled in several sittings (what a fun month that wasn’t!), my dentist recommended that I switch to an electric toothbrush. Despite my environmental misgivings, I did as instructed, since paying for rotten teeth is no fun at all, either financially or in terms of pain.
Photo by zoo_monkey on Unsplash
Initially, I was just buying and throwing away the toothbrush heads, consoling myself with the thought that at least they were a bit smaller than regular brushes. However, I then heard about Live Coco, who sell electric toothbrush heads which can be used and sent back for recycling. I’ve been using their heads for a few months now and have found this to be the best solution for green yet healthy teeth.
Perhaps even better, a friend of mine sent me a link to these little beauties - bamboo electronic toothbrushes. I’ve not tried them, but they look worth checking out as they boast month-long charging and come in entirely recycable packaging. If any blog readers have tried these, please let us know what they're like below.
Additionally, these toothbrushes from Yaweco - which have replaceable heads - have the thumbs up from Pippa, one of our WBCA committee members. She says:
I’ve found Yaweco toothbrushes comfortable to use with no hard edges. Changing replacement heads is easy, and great for both reducing plastic consumption and maintaining a brush in good condition. Most importantly, the relatively small heads have a soft bristle option, both of which my dental-surgeon father always stressed as vital for effective cleaning and care of both teeth and gums.
Photo by Kim Carpenter on Unsplash
Standard toothpaste comes in plastic squeezy tubes which also can’t be recycled and will just sit in landfill at the end of their lives, or end up in the ocean. However, there are alternative options out there.
You might want to try this 'Happier' toothpaste, which comes in an aluminium tube and so is easy to recycle. Additionally, their recipe is vegan and designed for sensitive teeth. I'm definitely tempted by this one.
Toothpaste tablets are available from various outlets and are beneficial as they are zero waste products. You chew them up, get brushing and off you go. However, several people I know have tried these and said that they aren’t that satisfying to use as they don't froth up. Other friends have said they can taste pretty bad.
If you’ve tried some toothpaste tablets which you get on well with, please post below with your recommendations.
Some people make their own toothpaste using coconut oil and bicarbonate of soda - but I’d be reluctant to recommend this approach as it means you’re not using fluoride and so your teeth might be at risk.
Cleaning in between your teeth is just as important as cleaning the teeth themselves. But unfortunately, traditional floss and interdental brushes create lots of landfill, and tend to be both made of and wrapped in plastic.
I tried bamboo interdental brushes like these and found them pretty useless. The wire inside the bristle bent so easily that they wouldn’t go between my teeth at all. If you’ve had more success with another brand, let us know below.
Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash
There are various plastic-free brands of floss on the market. I’ve bought some from Live Coco which I found quite hard to use initially - I'd previously been using a silk coated floss which slid between my teeth like a dream - but I’ve got used to them now. One thing I will say is to take care to try to floss at the right angle as this floss breaks more easily than traditional stuff, so can get lodged between your teeth.
One product which does seem to be the solution to both of these issues is a water flosser. These gizmos aren’t cheap, but are apparently very good for your teeth. My friend Jezaya, who runs Sew Much More (a Bristol-based sewing company) uses a water flosser and says:
My gum health is at a lifetime high thanks to the water flosser. Both my dentist and hygienist have said my gum health has improved since I started using it. I always struggled with tape floss getting stuck between my teeth too - so much easier and waaay better.
Do you have any top tips for greener teeth? If so, please share them below!
Did you know… Plastic toothbrushes take 400-500 years to biodegrade?
Reuse, reduce, recycle - we’ve all heard this phrase, and I’m guessing we all try to apply it within our own lives. Recycling yoghurt pots and reusing coffee cups is second nature to most of us these days. But reducing can be harder. And recycling some of the larger items in our lives is something many of us may never have considered.
I’ve been happily recycling away for years and feeling pretty pleased with myself for doing so. But there is (at least!) one person in my life who puts me to shame in this area - my fella, Arif. He buys almost nothing new and never has. From clothes to laptops to kitchen units, the vast majority of the stuff my beloved buys is reused or recycled in some way or another, which has inspired me to go second hand more often. So, in honour of WBCA’s reduce and reuse month, I thought I’d interview him about his shopping habits and share his wisdom with our blog readers. Here's the conversation we had...
Johanna: Please explain your philosophy on buying new things
Arif: “It isn’t a philosophy on buying things so much as a bid to stop fueling the collective need for new things to be produced. I love buying stuff and believe that buying (second-hand) and selling things is intrinsic to creating fewer new things.
“Broadly, we don’t need the vast majority of the new things we’re producing. If you choose to acquire something, you will ask yourself how much you need that thing and where you’ll get it. But what we don’t tend to do is consider the true costs of owning things. Everything has a cost, whether that be carbon, human or otherwise.
Photo by Ravin Rau on Unsplash
“If we stop demanding new things to be made, fewer new things will be made by the people who are responding to market forces. Buying and selling is the quickest way to show the market that we don’t need new stuff - in the same way that more people becoming vegan has meant that there’s now more vegan food on offer.”
Johanna: Can you give me some examples of things which other people would buy new that you would always try to buy second hand instead?
Arif: “Everything! It’s easier to think of something I don’t see in that way. In an ideal situation, there’s nothing we should need to buy new. If we had decent right to repair, certain things could be bought new, but then the old ones would be dismantled properly. The only things to buy new are things that are only safe when they’re new – like scaffold boards, which are condemned after a certain amount of time. Though they do tend to be reused (to make shelves and so on) here in Bristol."
“Think about, for example, a plug socket – there’s no way someone’s going to rewire our house and not replace the plug sockets. But why? It’s a good example – it probably will be there 20 years before it’s replaced, which is good, but
it’s still a piece of plastic and metal. And it’s still
functional. I’m not an electrian – if they say it’s dangerous, that’s different, but this is an example. There’s a bias of saying we’ve used a certain item for 15 years so it’s fine to throw it in landfill."
Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash
Johanna: What about cables? Could you buy them second hand? You buy a lot of those new! (I like to joke that every time a parcel arrives in this house, it’s a cable for Arif. I’m terribly funny, but probably quite unfair, as at least 50% of the time, it’s a book for me. The rest of the time, definitely cables.)
Arif: “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where – firstly, there’s an obsolescence and an economy of scale which we quickly use as an excuse. We start to drift into a meta economic paradigm of thinking, well, this thing that’s worth 90p – would I spend £5 of my time fixing it? Now you remember, when we went to Sri Lanka, the price of a human hour was such that you would just repair things. Cables are a tiny version of that. It comes down to local economics. No cables get thrown away in Turkey [where Arif’s family are from], and I guarantee you that they don’t get thrown away in Sri Lanka either. There’ll be a guy in a shop fixing electronics – cables are worth a pound, which is a percentage of a day’s wages. Everything changes depending on the local economics.
“The only solution is to make things expensive, as we should be doing with meat. We need to know the true transparent cost of items through educated eyes. Cables are a great example. Once we’re fixing £1 cables and making that socioeconomically viable, all a sudden it’s like eureka! That would be great.”
Johanna: If buying a second hand thing is more expensive than the new version, how does that play into it?
Arif: “When you learn about business and marketing, you learn about the difference between price, cost and value. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the difference. Everyone has to make their own decisions, but the main thing to do is get the data to enable people to make the right choices. And to remember that all costs effect other people. A cheap new telly has a carbon cost, it won’t last long, it’ll go in landfill, some horrible stuff is going to leak out of it and if you were to look at a chart of all the costs – you realise you’re polluting the planet, that the person who made it isn’t paid enough and so on."
Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash
“The iPhone mentality has us playing each other off against each other idea, feeling attached to ownership of stuff – but it’s worse to buy a cheap TV every year rather than a good one every 10 years.”
Johanna: It’s interesting that you mention phones. We’re all conditioned to think we need a new one every two years. How do you deal with that?
Arif: “I’m an early adopter of tech, I like having a fast phone. The interesting thing about phones is that they are very small – there’s a coefficient of usage versus cost. It’s small and you use it all day. That’s better than – for example – something bigger and more aspirational that you don’t use much every day. I bought my phone new a year ago – I tried to buy one second hand, but this model wasn’t around. I could have bought the model before, but I probably would have been done with it by now. The production cost is relatively low. But the whole right to repair thing needs to have correlative model with operating systems. We need a broader level of adoption for things that can still be used. Then we wouldn’t even need to recycle the device because there are people all over the world who would use them if the OS just worked still."
Johanna: The problem is, though, that there are so many phones in the world that they are having a big impact. (See our previous blog on this topic.)
Arif: “Google are working on a phone where you can update the elements – like a Fairphone, but better. It has a motherboard, sound card and speaker – you can upgrade them. It’s all about open source and cross platform. I blame the consumer a lot less for phones than for other stuff. There are fewer options."
Photo by HalGatewood.com on Unsplash
Johanna: I considered getting a Fairphone but had heard bad reports and in the end, I couldn’t deal with the daily stress of a rubbish phone. But I did buy a second hand handset, which I’m just as happy with, thanks to your influence. So, next question; where do you shop for second-hand items?
Arif: “Facebook Marketplace, mostly. It's easy to use and has a wild west element that I really like. People are rude to you, or you’ll meet someone really nice, or someone will come and offer you a tenner for a thing that you put up for £50. I like that, I think it’s fun – I like throwing myself on the human pile and seeing what happens!
“I use EBay for specifics. Or if I’ve bought something from a person, if I’m at a yard buying a van wheel from someone, I will often ask what else they have. People who sell stuff sell lots of other stuff too.”
Johanna: What’s the best find you’ve ever had?
Arif: “Now you’re asking! The slimline dishwasher which cost £20 and is still going – that’s a good example of something which would have gone to the tip otherwise. That was really good.
“When I knew I was buying a house, I bought a hob off a kitchen fitter who had a steady stream of leftover kitchen units and fillings and so on. He would ring me and ask if I wanted things. I got an oven from him as well, which I think I sold. He had a new Bosch fridge freezer, two years old, a person had ripped out the whole kitchen because they didn’t like the colour, so it was going to the tip. That really bugs me – there’s nothing you can do about that. But it meant I got a fridge freezer for free. Anything really big with a lot of metal in it is a real win."
Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash
Johanna: That’s a really good example of what other people would never consider buying second hand.
Arif: “Kitchen, bathroom suites, taps, things like that. Front doors. It becomes harder for people when they need skills to adapt the thing. There’s a set of skills that you need to make this work. But do some research, contact a tradesperson, find a person who will implement this for you… try to have a real human conversation with them. Maybe someone should start a business buying and fitting used kitchens. If people ring their kitchen fitter and ask them to fit a second-hand kitchen for you, maybe they will do it.”
Johanna: What is the best tip you can give someone who wants to try buying second hand from now on?
Arif: “Start by looking for it second hand, then buy new if you have to. That’s the big paradigm shift, which is analogous with reducitarianism. The real shift is not thinking I’m a meat eater who eats veggie once a week, but instead, we eat vegan and I treat myself to meat now and then. If you need a new pair of trainers – do you go to the shop, or do you decide what colour you want and look on eBay? If 80% of us can do that 80% of the time, that will be really helpful. Make that your starting point.
“Secondly, consider that it can be enjoyable to hunt for these things. You just teach yourself to do this if you have the energy. Talk to others – I like to think that in most groups of friends, there’s a me. You know them as the tight arse! Ask them where to find the things you need, as they will know. It’s a learn by doing thing.
“It’s also about how you dispose of things. If you know something is going to landfill, think about the implications of that. Leave something outside your front door with a post-it on it. This is a great way of getting rid of stuff which people often do in Bristol.”
Arif runs Hartwyn Natural Building with his business partner Joe, so sustainability is part of his life every day.
As a nation, we are becoming more aware of the impact that our diets have on the climate. Having been a vegan myself for around six years, it is amazing (and brilliant!) to me that Gregg’s, Subway and so many supermarkets have climbed aboard the plant-based band wagon. However, the bad news is that eating our way out of climate change isn’t as simple as just ditching the animal products.
The good news? Well, for those of you who are partial to the occasional steak or scrambled egg - if you choose right, you can eat these things without damaging the planet.
A movement of farmers in the UK (and around the world) is engaging in regenerative agriculture; farming that aims to increase biodiversity, improve soil health, protect the environment and enhance ecosystem services. While many traditional farming systems take more from the land than they give back, regenerative agriculture aims to do the opposite. If farmers work together in this way, there is hope that they can reduce and sequester carbon, an idea which is pretty exciting for the climate concerned among us.
Photo by Gary Ellis on Unsplash
WBCA recently hosted a fantastic talk on Regenerative Agriculture from Dan Geerah, a former agricultural adviser, and a promotor of landscape collaboration between landowners, plus an occasional Tweeter. I found the talk inspiring and educational - so here are some of the highlights, for those of you who couldn’t make it. You can check out the talk on YouTube whenever you like.
1. Soil health is key
Healthy soil should be dark, rich and full of nutrients. Sadly, much soil around the world is light, dusty and unhealthy, meaning that nursing it back to health should be a top priority. Researchers from Oxford University have said that we must adopt better agricultural practices to protect our soil. These include:
• cover cropping, which is the practice of planting crops for the purpose of covering (and therefore protecting) the soil rather than harvesting them;
• minimal tillage, in which land is tilled (prepared for growing crops) without the soil being turned over; and
• contour cultivation, where sloped land is tilled along lines of consistent elevation to conserve rainwater and to reduce soil losses from surface erosion.
Darker, healthy soil has is made up of 10-12% carbon, whereas unhealthy soil is just 1-2% carbon, demonstrating that looking after soil sequesters a lot of carbon.
Regenerative farmers limit soil disturbance by drilling seeds directly into the ground and keeping soil covered to protect it from wind and rain.
Crop rotation is another great way to increase soil health whilst protecting biodiversity. Rotating the crops grown on the same piece of land means that the soil benefits from a range of nutrients, rather than giving and taking the same ones year after year.
Additionally, heavily tilled, unhealthy soil does not absorb rainwater, leading to more floods and droughts. As the rainwater drains away, it takes both soil and any fertilisers that have been used with it - eroding topsoil and spreading pollutants. Thus we can see that healthy, untilled soil has multiple benefits. Check out this experiment to learn more about this.
It’s not just farmers who should be aiming for healthy soil. If you have a garden, healthy soil will help the environment. If you’re unsure how healthy your soil is, try burying a pair of your undies in it. No, seriously! Healthy soil should erode the cotton in two months, so plant your pants and then hoik them out again eight weeks later to find out how healthy your soil is.
Integrating animals into crop farming is another way to protect soil…
2. Farmers can work with animals to benefit everyone
Regenerative farmers use rotational grazing to increase the health of their land. In this practice, cows are moved every day from field to field in what is known as ‘mob grazing’, meaning they are continually moving across the grass. The land is rotated every three months, meaning that each piece of land only has cattle on it four days per year, meaning the grass can flourish on the other 361 days of the year.
Photo by Lomig on Unsplash
Additionally, farmers can harness help from critters who can do their pest management work for them. Hedgehogs can be encouraged, as they eat slugs. Beetle banks attract miniature John, Paul, George and Ringos (geddit?) who will eat aphids. Clearly, this holistic way of working is way better than using harmful pesticides and chemicals to bend land to our will.
3. We can support farmers doing this excellent work by buying their products
How can we, as individuals, help the farmers who are doing this great work? Well, as suggested at the beginning of this blog, one way is to vote with your wallet when doing the weekly shop. We all know that buying local food is a good idea, but if you can spot one of these logos on your grub, this is even better as this demonstrates that your food has been grown regeneratively.
If you want to eat meat, look out for Pasture for Life products. The cows sold under this label have been entirely grass fed (using the mob grazing method described above) in the UK. This method of feeding cows means that their carbon output is net positive, and so a far cry from your bog standard burger, fed by cutting down vast swathes of the Amazon. Meat Box on Wapping Wharf is just one place in Bristol where you can buy PLF meat, which also includes chicken and lamb as well as beef. Cotswold Beef is another source.
WBCA secretary Dorian loves Meatbox. He says, "my girlfriend and I have a big steak from Meatbox about once every two months - it's always absolutely delicious, not that expensive, and makes our mostly pretty strict vegetarian diets much easier to enjoy."
These products are more expensive than the fare on offer down at Tescos - but if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford this food, you’ll be making a real investment in humanity’s future. Additionally, an interesting fact to ponder is that we used to spend 20% of our income on food, whereas now it’s only 8%. We’ve got very used to cheap food - is that really a good thing?
Once you have got your British, sustainable food in your fridge, try your best not to waste it. UK households wasted a shocking 4.5 million tonnes of food in 2019. If your veg is on its way out can you make and freeze a soup or stew? Invite your buddies over for a feast? Feed it to your niece’s guinea pig?
And finally, if you buy some of these products and enjoy them - tell your friends. Tell them why you chose to buy these items and where they can also get them.
Spring is here… and OK, so at the moment, Bristol is still pretty cold and wet, but brighter days are (hopefully) on their way. To compliment this, our challenge this month is themed around nature.
Horrifically, since 1970, there has been a 50% decline in marine populations, a 68% decline in wild vertebrates and an 83% decline in freshwater wildlife globally. Closer to home, in the Avon area, birds are on the decline. There are 80% fewer linnets in our skies than there were in 1994, and we’ve lost a shocking 96% of starlings and swifts. UK butterflies are also dying out.
Photo by __ drz __ on Unsplash
Therefore, encouraging biodiversity is one of the most important things we can do to tackle climate change. Here are a few ideas for individual actions we can all take to try to encourage more nature in our lives.
1. Encourage wildness
If you have a garden, can you let it go back to nature? This page of our website contains all kinds of tips for how you can let nature take over in your garden. Cut back spring shrubs such as flowering currant so that they produce plenty of flowers for nectar and pollen next spring - just make sure nothing is nesting inside them first.
One beautiful if pricey option for wilder gardens is to invest in some wildflower turf. My partner and I have some of this in our front garden. Between March and September, new flowers burst into colourful bloom, seemingly on a daily basis. I've spent many happy hours when I should have been working gazing out the window and pointing out new plants. Wildflower Turf attracts wildlife, absorbs carbon and is beautiful. It does set you back a few quid, but if you’ve got the money, it’s a fantastic investment. Plus, great news for the non-green-fingered among us (which includes me), it is extremely low maintenance.
Whatever the size or shape of your garden, if you have grass, you can take part in No Mow May. What do you have to do? Well - nothing at all! Just sit back and let nature do its thing in your garden. That's the kind of gardening I can get on board with.
The people who have run this project have discovered that cutting the grass once every four weeks allows plants like daisies and white clover to bloom, boosting nectar production 10 fold. Given the bee crisis facing the planet, this has to be worth a try.
Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash
Of course, we don’t all have gardens, but we can all enjoy parks and verges. Unfortunately, at the moment, councils mow verges and parks frequently, cutting back the wildlife that our city is crying out for. Sign this petition to ask Bristol Council to stop mowing and let nature in.
2. Encourage wildlife
Letting nature take over your garden will mean you get more furry visitors. And what’s not to love about that?
For example, did you know that May is hedgehog season? Make sure your garden is safe for hedgehogs by getting rid of any loose netting or other litter. You might also want to leave out some food and water for the little critters - they like meaty pet food or chopped, unsalted peanuts.
Hedgehogs and other animals also love log piles, so build one of those to get all kinds of animals hanging out in your backyard.
If you fancy seeing more butterflies flitting about your yard, check out this handy article on wildflowers - could you plant some to encourage butterflies to your backyard? These colourful plants are just as beautiful as the butterflies they will encourage, so that’s a double win there.
This suggestion is a pretty big project… but if you fancy digging a pond in your garden, nature will really thank you for it. Ponds are homes to frogs, newts, toads and insects, and provide drinking water for birds and hedgehogs. Plus they’re soothing and beautiful, meaning they are pretty good for the mental health of us humans.
If you feel intrepid enough to give this a go, check out these three articles - and let us know how you get on.
3. Read and watch
In her book Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the 'Knepp experiment', a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Although I haven’t read this myself, two of my friends have read the book and they loved it. I asked those pals for their key takeaway points:
"The key takeaway for me was the data around carbon sequestration in soil. We all give a lot of attention to meat, animal welfare and emissions and so on but soil improvement literally pulls carbon out of the atmosphere. Cure, as well as prevention."
"The fundamental structures and systems that nature needs to restore and recover are ones that it has total capacity to do already if humans stop interfering. We need to free ourselves from the neat and tidy countryside that was fashionable in Victorian times. Trees that fall need to be left where they are, while ugly and daunting thistles which are the sole environments for rare and beautiful butterflies should be left well alone."
Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash
Additionally, you might want to check out the documentary Kiss the Ground on Netflix, which is a full-length film about a “new, old approach” to farming called 'regenerative agriculture', which the filmmakers say has the potential to balance our climate, replenish our vast water supplies, and feed the world. Plus, the film is narrated by Woody from Cheers. What’s not to love?
West Bristol Climate Action is hosting an online talk about Regenerative Agriculture on Wednesday 26th of May. For full details and to book tickets check out the Eventbrite page. If you're reading this blog after that event already took place, the video of the talk should be available on our Youtube page.
If you have some ideas of your own for how to encourage Nature, post them below. We always love hearing from you!
First published April 2021
If you’re a climate activist in the UK in 2021, it can be easy to feel hopeless and disillusioned in the face of party politics. Politicians pay lip service to tackling the crisis, yet we’re still hurtling towards irreversible climate change. The much publicised Green Home Grants was quietly scrapped last month , while the Committee on Climate Change criticised the government last year for failing to take enough action on issues such as flash floods and the loss of biodiversity.
It’s also easy to feel like the only elections that really matter are the big ones; but this is really not the case. The results of local elections (which are coming up in Bristol on May 6th) are what determine how your local area behaves. Schools, bin collections and libraries… but how your local area responds to climate change.
Do you wish the council would stop mowing down all those bee-friendly plants on the verges? Do you want to see more cycling lanes and fewer cars whizzing past your front garden? Then do a bit of digging about your local candidates and vote for the greenest options.
After all, we in Bristol were the first in Europe to declare a climate emergency. This is great opportunity for the Climate Concerned amongst us to put the pressure on and ensure that we are acting appropriately.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
In line with West Bristol Climate Action’s politics month, here are three things you can do to ensure you vote with green in mind in the upcoming elections.
1. Attend a climate hustings
Hustings are the local meetings that happen ahead of an election that give constituents a chance to ask questions. If you decide to go to a hustings, do a bit of research in advance and come armed with a question or two that you want answered. For example, you might want to know what candidates are planning to do about the fact that more people die in Bristol every year because of air pollution than car accidents , or whether they support the appeal to continue planned harmful extension to Bristol airport.
There are four events Bristol events focused on the candidates’ climate plans.
The first is the Bristol Mayoral Debate on ‘People, Places and Climate’ on April 8th. Marvin Rees and the mayoral wannabes will be debating their ideas and plans about, amongst other things, the climate.
Candidates will be asked how the city can reduce emissions and congestion as well as how technology will be embraced to address the climate emergency.
You can book your place here.
The second and third events are for the West of England (WECA) Mayoral candidates on April 19th (book here)
and the Bristol Mayoral candidates on April 27th (book here). In these events, candidates for the two respective elections will be asked to set out their vision for ensuring that the region’s response to the climate emergency will be both fair and fast.
Finally, on April 21st, the Bristol Mayoral candidates will be quizzed on how they will ensure that Bristolians can walk and cycle in safety. This is your chance to find out who is prepared to make the radical changes that are necessary to tackle air quality emergency in our city. Book here.
2. Contact the candidates
If you can’t make any of the hustings, another option is to get in touch with the candidates and ask them what they plan to do to tackle the climate emergency in our city. You might want to give examples of how climate change has impacted you and your loved ones. Or perhaps there are specific questions you would like answered.
Asking questions in this way serves two purposes. Not only does it mean you get the answers you need, it also demonstrates to the candidates that their potential future constituents care about the climate. Hopefully, this will push climate change issues up the agenda.
You can find out more about the council candidates here. Booklets about the candidates for both WECA and Bristol mayors will be posted to you nearer the time.
Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash
3. Shout about your findings
The final really important step you can take is to tell people what you’ve found. If you discover that one candidate is really prepared to stand up for the climate, let people know that you will be voting for them, and explain why. Post on social media. Message your local friends. You might even want to consider volunteering to help that candidate - they will be glad of your support! This volunteering could consist of anything from putting a poster in your window to delivering flyers or ringing voters. Get in touch with that candidate to offer your support. They will be delighted to hear from you!
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
Did you know: If you want to register for a postal vote (which many of us might want to do as Covid continues), the deadline for doing this is April 20th. You can apply here.
Do you have any tips for how to push climate change up the political agenda? If so, get in touch via the box below to tell us your thoughts.
First published March 2021
Transport is the UK’s biggest contributor to climate change . It’s responsible for a third of our emissions. Both driving cars and flying contribute to this damage, with flying being responsible for 5% of carbon emissions worldwide.
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash
Tackling our transport emissions is the focus of this month’s West Bristol Climate Action challenge. With that in mind, here are three things could you do to reduce the amount of damaging travel you’re undertaking at the moment.
1. Swap your car for a bike.
Now that spring is (finally!) on the way, pumping up the tyres of your bike and getting onto the cycle path might feel a bit less daunting than it did in the dead of winter. If you’re travelling about in Bristol, can you do it by bike instead of in the car or a taxi? Read our very first blog for tips on how to switch from driving to cycling.
If you don’t have a bike, could you walk instead of driving? One plus of the pandemic, from my perspective at least, has been how much walking I’ve done. I now have second-hand walking boots and a rain coat, and have come to love listening to an audiobook while I stride the streets. Have a look on the map - your destination might be closer than you think
2. Pledge to go flight free
We’re all desperate for a holiday after a year spent inside - and hopefully we might be able to have one this summer. However, rather than jumping on a plane and heading for the beach or the slopes, could you pledge to go flight free for a year?
Is there somewhere in the UK you’ve always fancied but never been? Or how would you feel about getting the train to Europe? Paris, Berlin and Portugal are all eminently reachable on the train from the UK. Check out this helpful website to plan your trip.
I took myself on holiday to Cornwall two years ago and had a great time. Not only was the holiday itself lovely, but I found lots of unexpected benefits of not flying. Airport security and flying generally makes me quite anxious - it was lovely not to have the pressure of hurrying to the airport and having my knickers rifled through at check in.
There are so many beautiful spots near us here in the South West. Can you go exploring closer to home for your next holiday?
3. Join a car club
There are times when driving feels essential. Maybe you have lots to carry, or you just need to get somewhere quicker than the bus could manage. If you need a car in your life now and then, could you consider joining a car club and sharing, rather than having a car to yourself? This will save you the cost and hassle of owning a car, and will cut your emissions.
You might also find that those journeys you once thought you really needed the car for can actually be managed on public transport or your bike when your car isn’t sitting in the driveway tempting you!
Co-Wheels car club is one option. Others include Zip Car and Karshare.
Do you have any suggestions for how you can travel cleaner in Bristol? If so, post them in the comment box below.
First published February 2021
Whether you’re an avocado adoring gastro-type or an ‘eat to live’ person, there is no denying that we all need food. Indeed, I don’t know about you, but food (along with crime novels and music) has been my primary source of enjoyment over the past 12 unusual months.
However, our eating habits here in the West can be damaging for the planet. Many supermarkets package food in plastic or other materials that are damaging to the environment, while foods are often flown around the world to get to your plate. Did you know that, in a typical British household, food accounts one third of your total environmental impact? Or that, here in the UK, we import 89% of our fruit? You can calculate the miles that your food has travelled here.
There are several ways you can reduce your food-related carbon footprint. One is to try to buy local as much as possible, perhaps at a greengrocer's rather than the supermarket. Another is to order a weekly veg box from a local farm. There are plenty of choices out there for doing that these days.
A third way is to have a go at growing your own food. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, could you put it to work and grow some grub which will go straight to your plate?
Photo by Avinash Kumar on Unsplash
Four of our committee members here at the WBCA are keen garden growers. I asked them some questions about the best ways to get started and their experiences.
Sarah Watson said, “I’ve always tried to grow food because it tastes so good and there’s something wonderful about cropping the plants you’ve grown.” Tim Mason made the point that if you don’t have any garden space of your own, you might want to look for an allotment – finding one near your house is a good idea if you can. You can read more about how to find an allotment in Bristol here.
I asked this green fingered bunch what they had had most luck growing, and the answers were mixed. While some had success with potatoes, others found them more challenging. Sarah W reported that climbing beans and tomatoes are easy if you have limited space - and while my partner and I have had varied results with growing food, I can confirm that our beans climbed way higher than we thought they might. We still have bags of them in the freezer now, many months later.
Tim recommended hard and soft fruit as well as broad beans, while Sarah H suggested onions, spinach, chard, kale and land cress. Some found peas grew easily, while others found them harder to grow.
All the gang agreed that slugs and snails are one of the biggest challenges facing gardening growers. As Pippa Vine said, “Planting your own seedlings or bought plants and watching them disappear before your eyes can be very disheartening.”
Slug pellets are a no no as they are harmful to birds and hedgehogs. There was a common agreement that heading out at dusk with a head torch, picking slugs up and moving them away from your precious produce was a good idea. Pippa also recommended slug nematodes, which are microscopic, transparent worms, which feed and multiply inside the slug, killing them off in a way that’s kinder to the planet than pellets.
Sarah H suggested ignoring recommendations about spacing your seeds out when planting. “Most will be eaten by the little blighters so I sow very thickly and then, once the seedlings are past the vulnerable stage, they can be thinned out,” she said.
Top tips for first time gardeners from our gang were varied.
Photo by Ny Menghor on Unsplash
Pippa said, “After setting up lots of growing plots over the decades, then getting into permaculture in the last 10 years, I’ve learnt to have a good look at a potential growing space and ask:
• Where is the arc of the sun? Will your plants will get plenty of sunshine or do you need to think about what will grow in partial shade?
• What is the prevailing wind direction? You might need to provide some shelter.
• Is there a frost pocket where delicate plants could succumb to harsh winter temperatures?
• Can you collect rainwater from nearby roofs (including shed/lean-to/greenhouse) in water butts to water your veg?
• What kind of soil are you working with? Get down and dirty to find out. Is it heavy clay, sandy and free-draining, or a workable loam? Most soils will benefit from lots of organic matter like well-rotted manure, home-made compost or a seaweed fertiliser.”
Sarah W’s sensible advice was to, “Grow something you love eating – peas, beans, little tomatoes. The growing season takes longer than you think, so make sure you are around when your crop is cropping….”
Tim said, “Take it steady - grow three or four things in your first year but try different varieties of what you like such as the humble and easy to
grow potato, it adds interest to your growing and your menu.”
I think this is great advice - my partner and I went a bit mad planting everything we could get our hands on during lockdown 1.0, and it soon became overwhelming. Slow and steady wins the race!
Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
Sarah H says, “Just have a go and don’t give up if things don’t work first time. Some things I’ve grown have lasted through the winter and produced the following year – things like kale, cabbage, broccoli and spring onions which didn’t do very well the first year seemed better the next year. So if the plants are looking healthy the next spring then leave them if you have room and see what happens.”
Finally, Pippa suggested joining the Avon Organic Group and buying Good Earth Gardening and Fruit for Life, two friendly, accessible and amusing guides to growing veg and fruit organically by brilliant Bristol gardener and teacher Tim Foster: firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our gardeners agreed that it’s not possible to grow enough in your garden to feed yourself the whole year round. However, every little helps, and if you supplement your home grown food with trips to the local greengrocer or zero waste shop, your carbon food-print (OK, I made that term up) should reduce significantly.
Do you have any top tips for growing food in your garden? If so, post them in the comments box below.
First published February 2021
If you’re reading this blog, the chances are high that you’re already an eco-warrior of one sort or another. You probably cycle instead of driving, recycle all your soya yoghurt pots or even make your own yoghurt from your pet goat’s milk. All of those things are great, of course - but individual actions like these can only go so far. And we can all feel helpless knowing our actions are just a drop in the bucket compared to those of the organisations and governments who continue to act as like ostriches, with their heads firmly stuck in the sand.
One way we can contribute towards making changes at a wider level is to think carefully about how we invest our money, whether we’re starving church mice with only £30 in a current account or fat cats with thousands in stocks and shares. As it happens, finances are also the topic of this month’s West Bristol Climate Action challenge, so this is a great time to think about how you can invest your money in a way that helps rather than harms the planet.
Photo by Clayton Robbins on Unsplash
(Also, since thinking about banks, money and investments hurts my head and might hurt yours too, I’ve inserted some references to cute animals throughout this blog. Points to anyone who can spot all 14 animal references.)
1. Change banks
Many banks invest in fossil fuels, with HSBC and Barclay’s being the biggest offenders. In 2019, it was found that Barclay’s bank remains Europe’s biggest funder of fracking and coal, having poured $85 billion into fossil fuels. HSBC funds coal plants in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The Co-Op Bank are one better option, as they have a fairly comprehensive ethical strategy and do not invest in fossil fuels. As one of their customers, I contacted the Co-Op Bank to ask about their investments.
They replied saying:
“We support small businesses and organisations whose activities promote a healthy environment and we seek to minimise our impact on the environment. We provided lending of £18,503,235 to renewable energy companies in 2020.”
However, the best bank for climate-change-combatting-coyotes like you and I is Triodos, which actively invests in renewable energy sources. You can switch to Triodos via their website. It will only take seven days to complete the switch and should be hassle free. If you have multiple accounts, you might want to consider switching them all to Triodos.
2. Pensions and investments
As with banks, there are many pension companies out there which will take your hard-earned money and put it to work destroying the planet. If you’re unsure about where your pension money is being placed, write to the company in question about ask them what their top 10 investments are. You might be in for a nasty surprise. Even if you can’t change your pension, you can let them know your opinion and ask them to consider looking for more ethical places to invest their money.
If you can switch your pension fund, you might want to consider looking at Nest, which isn’t a home for owls and eagles, but is instead a pension fund which only invests in companies with high ethical standards. I signed up for an account while writing this blog, which was quick and easy to do.
Photo by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash
There are also several climate-friendly investment companies you could consider investigating. Trine, who invest money into renewable energy in developing countries, are one. The Big Exchange are a new initiative from the brains behind the Big Issue. They invest money into projects which lower carbon emissions, protect wildlife (such as lions, tigers and bears, oh my!) and contribute to social housing. I’ve been investing via the Big Exchange for a while and have found the whole system simple and easy.
Personally, I find the topic of finances enough to make me want to hibernate (just like a hedgehog, bumblebee or fat-tailed lemur). But if you want to learn more about eco-friendly ways we can make money work for us, you might be interested to learn about Doughnut Economics. And no, that isn’t how you can make money by gorging yourself on vegan Krispy Kremes.
Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash
It fact, doughnut economics are, ‘regenerative, distributive economies that work within the planet’s ecological limits. Kate Raworth wrote a book on the topic and can also be seen giving a 15 minute TED talk on her ideas here.
4. Contribute to West Bristol Climate Action!
If you enjoy these blogs or our monthly talks on how to live a more sustainable life, please consider donating to our group. We need contributions to keep going - all are gratefully received! You can donate via our PayPal page here or contact us to find out how to make a direct bank transfer. Monthly contributions are as welcome as a pony at a six year old’s birthday party, so please don’t hold back.
If you have any tips for ways to boost your bucks without harming our home, please post them in the comments box below.
First published January 2021
As some of you might remember, we're running a series of monthly challenges designed to enable us all to take tangible steps to fight the climate and ecological emergency.
This month, the challenge is all about being local. Just as charity begins at home, climate and ecological action begins in your local area. The challengers have suggested a few actions you could take… here’s a look at some of my favourites.
Can you set yourself the challenge of avoiding Amazon for a month? As well as their dodgy tax practices, Amazon ship and drive products all around the world and often use far more packaging than is needed.
Try looking for the items you would normally buy from Amazon from local shops or sellers instead. My fella loves Facebook Marketplace, where you can pick up second-hand items from people who live nearby, killing two environmental birds with one stone. (Hmm, maybe that metaphor needs a little bit of work. Don’t kill any birds, planet-fans!)
Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash
You might also want to try writing down every single thing you buy in a week. Have a look at what you bought locally and what came from further afield. Are there any habits you could change?
I tried this challenge and found that I had a mixed bag. While I bought a card and some cakes for a friend from a UK seller and supported a Bristol-based yoga teacher by booking an online workshop, I also bought wine from Italy and Argentina, vegan feta from Greece and vegan ice cream from Sweden - a reminder that just because something is vegan, it doesn’t mean it’s carbon neutral.
deally, it would be great to buy wine and beer from the UK, such as Quoins wine or the Bristol-based Butcombe Beer (which we’re fans of in this house).
However, if home-grown booze is a little out of your budget or you can’t find any in your local shop, it’s best to at least avoid wine from regions suffering from drought, such as South Africa, Australia or California.
There are also lots of great gins made here in Bristol, including Bristol Dry Gin, Psychopomp and 6 O'Clock Gin.
Can you try to buy more locally produced food this month? We get a fortnightly veg box from Plowright Organic, full of fruit and veg grown and packed in Somerset, which I can recommend.
Their apples, kale and broccoli are all especially delicious. There are many more local and organic food sellers - see those listed on our page about Better Food Options.
Another option is to go foraging in your local area. You might think that January and February are not the most fruitful months in our freezing climate, but in fact, if you head outside, you might be able to find beech nuts, blackberries, sloes, pine nuts, nettles and wild garlic. Of course, you can’t entirely feed yourself by foraging, but it might be quite fun and is certainly a better bet for your health than watching yet another episode of the Crown!
As Grant from West Bristol Climate Action says, some of the benefits of foraging include:
✅Minimum of food miles
✅Zero packaging or manufacture
✅Fresh (though do wash)
✅Organically grown if wild
✅Connection to nature
✅Self reliance / independence
Check these Woodland Trust blogs on foraging in January and February for some great tips and recipe ideas.
Many of us are doing more walking in these strange and troubled times. Something we could all commit to doing is picking up rubbish as we walk. This will not only make your local area prettier for the next walker, but could also save some wildlife from getting hurt or even killed by the plastic and tin cans that litter our streets. I often take a pair of sturdy gloves and a roll of bin bags with me when I go out walking, and it is satisfying in the extreme to do the same route a few days later and notice the difference.
Are you close to any of your neighbours? If so, could you consider food swapping with them? Even with all the planning and best intentions of the world, we sometimes realise that the food we have might go off if it’s not cooked quickly - and, for whatever reason, we don’t have time to do that cooking.
For example, did you know that 20 million slices of bread are wasted in the UK every day, creating greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 140,000 cars? Therefore, anything we can do to avoid food waste is a must.
If you have some bread or veg you don’t think you’re going to get round to eating, why not message a neighbour and see if they want to take it off your hands?
Play your cards right and they might even
bring you round a portion of whatever they make! Everyone’s a winner.
If you want to join in our monthly challenges, check out our great Instagram feed, which has a plethora of pictures and tips for each challenge.
Do you have any ideas for better local living we can all take part in? If so, do comment below.