If you want to reduce your impact this year, your home is a great place to start, says Rae Ritchie.
There are 29 million homes in the UK, accounting for 30 per cent of the UK’s total energy use, 27 per cent of UK carbon dioxide emissions and around 24 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. If we all made some changes to how we run our eco-friendly homes, we could start to make a difference to the climate crisis.
What’s the tiniest change you can make? Do that first. Turn electrical items off at the wall (the microwave is an easy one to start with). From your thermostat to the temperature you wash your clothes at, consider what can go down a notch.
Alternatively, pick one specific aspect of your home and try making that greener. Get through lots of milk? Ditch the plastic and get glass bottles delivered by a milkman or reduce the carbon footprint by going for a plant-based alternative.
Another tactic is to use set-and-forget services so once you’ve made a decision, you don’t have to think about it again. Plastic-free bamboo toilet rolls from Naked Sprout even come with 10 per cent off when you set up a subscription.
Some changes only need to be made once. “Perhaps the most impactful thing we can do is to switch to a renewable energy tariff,” says Jen Gale, author of The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide. “It’s super easy and could even save you money. “Check out Big Clean Switch, which is a price comparison site listing only renewable energy tariffs”.
Make a pledge
Could you commit to change for the whole of 2021? Ideas include not using your tumble dryer (one of the worst appliances in terms of energy usage) or making your own cleaning products. You’ll be unlikely to go back once 2022 comes round.
One step at a time
There’s no need to change everything all at once. Instead, make switches when you need to buy a replacement. Use up your stash of clingfilm, for example, then order wax wraps (unlike some other versions, Waxyz have the advantage of being vegan).
Adopt a seasonal approach. Introduce more eco-friendly cleaning products, for instance, when the spring-cleaning vibe hits. “Move to a refillable cleaning brand like Clean Living or Milly & Sissy which deliver to your home and cut down on single use spray bottles or refill your own at a local zero waste shop”, suggests Georgina Wilson-Powell, author of Is It Really Green? Everyday Eco Dilemmas Answered.
Could you add something extra to something you do already? If you have one bin in your kitchen for recycling and one for non-recyclables, could you get a third? Use it for vegetable scraps rather than sending them to landfill.
A variation on this approach is to build up the level of complexity. If you start collecting vegetable scraps, for example, later try composting them rather than using the green bin. Many council websites offer advice and subsidised products.
Or gradually work towards a bigger goal. Say you want to use meal planning to reduce food waste. Begin by making Monday pasta night and Friday veggie pizza night. When you have that nailed, add plans for other days to the mix.
Identify a problem and find different ways to address it. Avoiding tumble drying, for instance, doesn’t have to mean trudging over wet grass to hang washing on the line. Make the most of your clothes airer. Buy another. You can always stick them outside when the weather’s good.
Inside and out
Another way to make your home more environmentally friendly is to systematically work through different spaces. In your bathroom, for instance, experiment with plastic-free options such as soap instead of shower gel and shampoo bars instead of bottles.
Think also about your home’s exterior. However small or large, how can you use the space to better support the environment? This could be anything from a bee hotel on a window box to an entire wildflower meadow. Beyond your front door, can you extend the ‘shop local’ mantra to other activities?
Opting for services and socialising nearer to where we live can cull our travel emissions. Make it a rule of thumb: all other things being equal, plump for the closest choice.
New tech versus basic swaps
Love gadgets? Use that to your advantage. “There’s lots of cheap and even free ways to use tech”, says Jess Wiles of environmental organisation Hubbub. “Smart home technology, such as smart lighting, thermostats and plugs can help to automate our homes, for example, turning things off when not needed and optimise our heating settings.”
“For a breakdown of different technologies, I’d recommend the Energy Saving Trust”. Conversely, you could pursue a more old-school approach to sustainability. Think extra blankets, hot water bottles and draught excluders – you could even try making your own.
Look for help
Check out sources of support. Who can help you? You may, for example, be entitled to free or discounted resources such as water-saving devices from your water supplier.
The three Rs
Each of the three 3 Rs represents a different approach. Start with ‘reduce’. What can you remove from your life altogether? What wouldn’t you miss if it was gone – or even be glad to see the back of? Swap to paperless billing and, while you’re at it, search online for ‘Royal Mail opt out’ to stop receiving unaddressed post. T
hink strategically about ‘reuse’. Pause before putting anything in the bin, even the recycling bin. Can you use it again? Grab a bulldog clip and start a scrap paper pad with old envelopes and designate a box to store good-to-go-again wrapping paper and packaging.
Finally, ‘recycle’. Can you up the ante? Check out your local authority’s website to swot up on what you can and can’t put out for kerbside collection – a step so easy, you don’t even need to get off the sofa.