These Boots Are Made For Walking

I’ve recently become a convert to the benefits of walking. For me there are three main benefits to walking: environmental, physical, and mental.

London makes walking an easy choice with its dense size and it’s intense congestion. Within central London it is often not only better for the environment to walk but much faster. Buses and taxis get caught in London’s tough downtown traffic, meaning you can forget about getting anywhere by road during rush hour. The underground (or the Tube as it’s called here) might seem like a faster option but getting two and from an underground platform can take just as long as the subway ride itself due to the immense size of some of the underground stations. The time and distance you walk using the underground can actually come close to walking between stations if you’re only going a stop or two (and that’s without having to stand in queues or wait for the train).

Reducing public (and private) vehicle transportation in downtown London can have a bigger positive affect than you might expect. Currently, London’s Oxford Street has some of the highest rates of air pollution in the world. This is due in large part to the approximately 270 buses that run down it every hour. Efforts are currently underway to reduce vehicle traffic and make the street pedestrian friendly.

The physical benefits of walking are numerous as well. From strengthening your heart muscle to helping prevent dementia and osteoporosis, walking helps improve a multitude of physical aspects. If done at a rigorous pace it can also be better at reducing heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure than running.

The mental benefits have also been significant to me. I’ve started walking home from work occasionally, about 6 miles, and noticed a huge impact on my day. Walking forces me to disconnect from my phone, which I am guilty of spending too much time on, helping my eyes rest after a full day of working at a computer. It also helps me feel energized and relaxed by the time I get home whereas the crowded and often rowdy bus rides leave me feeling drained and grumpy.

Overall, I hope to continue to make walking a more frequent means of transportation for myself to help not only with environmental sustainability but my own personal sustainability as well.

-Jessica

Hide and Seek

One of the easiest ways I found in Canada to make more environmental purchases was in my cleaning products. It so happened that today I needed to pick up more dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, and paper towel.

The grocery store I normally shop at is a mid-size Tescos. While looking through the shelves of the cleaning aisle I was really surprised to see no “green” brands. Nothing was advertised as being environmentally friendly which made choosing new items a lot more challenging.

Image

“When you see this logo on a product, it means that this product was made by a Charter member – a company that has voluntarily committed to continuously improve its behaviour in sustainability and is independently verified.” CleanRight.eu

I finally found the this logo on Procter & Gamble dishwashing soap. It was a tiny icon on the back of the container with no explanation (I had to look it up later on Clean Right’s website). It was the same for laundry detergent…

“When you see this logo on a product, it tells you that the product was made by a Charter memberImage and goes above and beyond legislative requirements, in line with industry’s best practice.  These products meet high sustainability standards for helping protect environmental safety,  promoting efficient use of resources eg through the promotion of concentrated formats. They comply to ambitious criteria set voluntarily by the cleaning industry association . Easy-to-understand consumer information on how to use products in a more sustainable way is an additional commitment these products have to comply to.” CleanRight.eu

I found the this logo on the Tesco brand detergent capsules. At the time I still didn’t know what it meant (I should mention I had no cell service inside the grocery store) but it’s great to know that it’s going above the normal standards. Again though, it was a small label on the back of the packaging with no explanation.

It was a similar story with paper towels. I couldn’t find any that identified as recycled paper but eventually found an FSC logo on the back of a Tesco branded product.

FSC Mix

The timber or fibre in the product is a mixture of some/all of the following: Timber or fibre from an FSC-certified forest; Reclaimed timber or fibre; Timber or fibre from other controlled sources” FSC-uk.org

I found it very strange that the few products that do meet environmental standards weren’t using it as part of their marketing appeal to consumers. Do British people care so little about environmentally friendly products that it’s not a selling point for products? I’ve searched for any research or news articles about green purchasing habits in the UK but so far have not found anything recent. I see several stores on my route into work that specialize in local, organic, or natural products so people must purchase environmentally friendly products. Could it be that it’s not a mainstream concern in the UK as it is in Canada?

The other option I can think of is it is just the area I live in. I’ve found the variety of available products can vary widely depending on what part of London the store is located in (clothing, food, cafes, etc.). I live admittedly in an area of London that has some of the poorest wards (districts) and have been in grocery stores here where “fresh” meat made up half an aisle, and sugary drinks made up two. I’m curious to see if I went to a Tesco’s, or any other similar grocery chain in wealthy versus poor areas if the environmentally friendly product mix would change.

In Canada the hardest part was determining from the variety of options which products were the most green. In the UK, just finding green products may be the hard part.

-Jessica

Microbeads (because Polymethyl Methacrylate isn’t Catchy)

Microbeads have recently been re-introduced to me as an environmental issue by my friends over at Be The Dirt.

I will admit that at some point in the past I was vaguely made aware that Microbeads were bad, but it’s time to remind myself how bad they really are…

Image result for microbeads

Microbeads are little plastic spheres found in a large range of health and beauty products. Their purpose is to “scrub” areas more thoroughly by increasing the abrasiveness of the products they are in. They get washed down the drain into the sewage system and water treatment plants currently have no capabilities to catch the microbeads. This results in microbeads entering the ocean where they are magnets for pollutants and get eaten by fish (which ultimately get eaten by us) [BeatTheMicrobead.org].

The State of Maine, along with dozens of other states, is in the process of banning microbeads. For those who have never lived in New England, the political culture in Maine right now is contentious to say the least (the Republican Governor pledged on the 29th of May to veto all Democrat-sponsored bills, he’s up to 22 vetoes so far). The fact that this law has widespread support shows how obvious and important this step is.

Image result for microbeads

The question now is: what do I do with the face wash I already have? In my lapse of memory regarding how bad microbeads are, I purchased face wash with microbeads several weeks ago. I have about half a bottle left and have been left wondering what to do with it. Continuing to use it doesn’t seem to be an option, but throwing it out the bottle seems wrong too since it has a plastic casing which may be recyclable. I’ve thought about transferring the liquid to a biodegradable container but that means the beads will eventually end up in the soil and possibly the water supply. Are they better off then remaining trapped in the plastic container? I think in this case I’ll be forced to throw the whole thing out.

Microbeads are in hundreds, if not thousands, of products and consumer preference is a big part of why they are still used. If you want to check to see if any of your products have microbeads  then I recommend downloading Beat the Microbead’s free app. I definitely will use the app to make sure I never again buy microbead products and have already used it to check the other products I own (thankfully my toothpaste is microbead free!).

Here’s to a future where you don’t end up eating your face wash’s polluted leftovers with your haddock fillet.

~Jessica

After all this time, you’re still on my mind…

Wow time flies…

This weekend was the two year anniversary my arrival in London. There’s been lots of ups and downs since then but this blog has remaining on my mind and now seems like the right time to pick it back up again. I thought about starting a new blog that was specific to my time in London, but I’ve decided to keep this one for a couple of reasons:

1. The name: while I am technically a student again (accounting), I hope I never stop learning and I am still hopeless at making plants grow (maybe when I have my first successful garden I’ll change the name)

2. The message: while in a new context, the message still matters to me and has never left me

The message was the hardest part to return to and the reason I’ve stayed away from blogging so long. This blog was originally part of a class assignment in university to track an environmental lifestyle change. I wanted to do more than just change one behaviour though. There are so many choices presented throughout the day to be more sustainable that the idea of limiting myself to one seemed arbitrary (and honestly I find the idea of reporting on the length of my shower time just creepy). I came up with my own assignment to identify and change as many behaviours as possible. My limitations were pretty clear as a student with limited time and money. I build most of the posts around testing my assumption that it was too expensive to live more sustainably as a student. I was (pleasantly) surprised that I was wrong and it was a lot easier and not as expensive as I had thought it would be.

Without the restrictions of student life and to-the-penny budgeting (and pressure of a final grade on the project) I wasn’t sure I would have the same motivation as I did before. After two years though, I can say that this blog wasn’t just a phase or an assignment. It changed the way I look at my daily actions and I haven’t been able to go back to wasteful ways without guilt since. I wasn’t perfect in university by any means but each small change was really encouraged me and made me want to find another step to take.

That feeling is what’s kept this blog on my mind all this time and what brings me back to it now. Like exercising, each success only gave me the motivation to continue to try harder. While I don’t know that I’ll ever run a marathon or live trash-free, I know the way to get there is by focusing on being better today than you were yesterday.

So this blog is now about the continued experiment, the lifelong improvement, and the struggles of taking steps as an individual on behalf of something so big and incomprehensible as the Earth.

I think my About page says it best: “This blog is dedicated to every time I thought it would be too hard, too expensive, or too inconvenient to act in a more sustainable way”.

I look forward to proving myself wrong.

~Jessica

New Place, New Sustainability Challenges

I have learned this year that every time I move locations whether it’s to a different area of the province, across provinces, or across the world it brings with it new sustainability opportunities and challenges.

I have committed recently to moving to London, England after I graduate from University this spring and there are already things that I know will improve my sustainability and things that will at least initially hinder my efforts.

First, some things I am looking forward to:

  • No car: I can’t exactly take it with me and I will finally be living in a place where I don’t need it
  • Metered utilities: I doubt my budget will like this much, but I am looking forward to actually being accountable and at the very least be able to track my energy consumption, I think it will help me cut back a lot more effectively.
  • Public transportation: kind of like not having a car, but in general I just rather like public transportation and it will get me to walk more
  • Possibly gardening: There’s a small backyard where I will be living which I might be able to tinker with as a hobby

Some things I don’t think will help my sustainability:

  • Having to start over again with food: I imagine it will take time again to learn how to tell where things are from, what is local, where to get local food, etc. 
  • Continued limited food options: I know the grocery store nearest to where I will be living does not have the widest selection of products (it’s a pretty small grocery store) and plus it’s in the city so I’m not sure how many farmers there are nearby like there are here in New Brunswick.
  • Contributing to increasing urbanization
  • Having to relearn what’s really “green”: I’ll have to figure out what UK products and brands are really environmentally friendly, and what new/different eco-labels they have in the UK and their meanings

I’m looking forward to the move and what changes in sustainability it will bring. The flight over there won’t help with my sustainability, but I plan on sticking to their weight limitations without buying any extra allowances for my luggage. This will also help encourage me to cut back on all the goods I own and be less materialistic. Iceland Air, which I’ll be flying on, has approximately 144 pound limit for their overseas flights: two check bags and two carry on ones. It will be interesting to try to stick below that and still take everything I’ll need with me. I am very much looking forward to trimming down my possessions though and getting rid of a lot of things that I just simply don’t need. I’ll try to write a blog post in the future about what kinds of new homes I was able to give my various items.

~Jessica

Guilty Pleasure: Paper Towel

 

One of the items I’ve been having a hard time giving up are paper towels. I will use it for all kinds of things and go through several sheets a day. One of the things I use it for frequently is as a napkin.

My family used almost exclusively cloth napkins at home when I was growing up. I like them because they tend to be a lot more sturdy and useful than paper ones and definitely look a lot nicer on a table than paper ones. I know there are some arguments about whether they are actually greener because you still have to wash them which uses water and electricity (unless you’re like my parents, in which case propane).

According to this blog at least though, cloth napkins still use less energy and resources than paper napkins (even recycled ones). As I will be graduating and moving soon I think I may have to wait until I reach my new destination to invest in cloth napkins (the less stuff I have to move right now, the better), but it would be nice to have a cloth option again. Hopefully it will help me cut down on my frequency of use for paper towels, and maybe it would even encourage me to keep up with my laundry more.

~Jessica

Practicality of Green

So one of the things I’ve found as I try to buy more thoughtfully is that I don’t always get the same usefulness out of the products.

A good example so far is groceries. I’ve been trying to buy larger and more local products, especially in produce. I can get bagged apples and carrots from maritime sources and have switched to buying whole mini hams instead of sliced deli ham to reduce processing and packaging. Unfortunately, buying more bulk quantities means that I’m not always able to use everything before it goes bad. I only cook for myself so there’s no real need for me to buy so much, though the smaller quantities are more processed and not always as local. I haven’t been able to figure out how to adjust my food purchases in a way that reduces the environmental impact while at the same time providing me with the right amount of food.

On the other side, I have found buying more “green” general house products has been fairly beneficial overall. I mentioned the dish soap in the previous post, but I have had positive experiences with other things as well. Just yesterday I went to buy some new toilet paper and was glad to see that there was a budget green option for it instead of just name brands. There’s an option here called “Green” (or “Vert” for the French) which is made by President’s Choice. It is more expensive than non-green products, but still cheaper than name brand green options. What I liked about this one was that is 100% from recycled sources. I’ve been learning a lot lately about the issues with various “stamps of approval” and thought going for a straight recycled product would help cut out some of the issues with misrepresentations. I’ve also been very glad to see cheaper green options becoming more widely available.

So far changing my buying habits has had some unexpected consequences, but hasn’t broken my budget either which is encouraging. I’m looking forward to seeing what other green products I’ll be able to purchases in the future.

~Jessica