A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog post #4

Guest post by SDG Ambassador Julia Daly

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Welcome to the last blog post of this plastic reduction series. I’ve seen many undergrads already receiving their final results, and many postgrads, myself included, will soon be handing in (or have already handed in) our final dissertations. With this closure to the academic year, I will also be bringing this blog series to an end. But before I go, I would like to share two shampoo bar products that I have tried and loved. Shampoo bars that work for your particular hair type are, in my experience, the most difficult to find when it comes to plastic free alternatives, so I am THRILLED to have found two that both work.

Today’s focus are shampoo bars from two brands: Eco Warrior and Faith in Nature. Both are available from Holland and Barrett and Boots so very accessible. Eco Warrior are a British brand that make soap which is vegan, cruelty free and eco-friendly using recyclable packaging. Similarly, Faith in Nature are also UK based, cruelty free, vegan and reducing plastic use by using recyclable and recycled packaging. Eco Warrior are a purely soap bar company, whereas Faith in Nature provide a plethora of options: soap bars, liquid shampoo in fully recycled plastic bottles, the option of buying 5 litre or 20 litre bottles of liquid product to reduce plastic consumption and refill stations in stores across the country.

Eco Warrior – Shampoo Bar, Orange and Ginger Essential Oils, 100g for £4.00

A good size shampoo bar that lathered well when wet. As I’ve not had a great experience with shampoo bars in the past, I found that this one was the first to lather well and could be used by directly placing the bar onto my hair without leaving clumps of product behind. It does take a while to cover your entire head and get to the roots, I would say about twice as long as with liquid product. My hair didn’t need a lot of time to get used to the new product, perhaps a week or so, and after washing, my hair felt very clean and oil free. The only thing that wasn’t ideal about the product was that it seemed to half in size after every use, meaning that it only lasted about a month and a half. My hair, being thick and long probably expedited the use of the product so someone with thinner, shorter hair would definitely get a lot more use out of one bar.

Faith in Nature – Shampoo Bar, Coconut & Shea Butter, 85g on sale for £4.34, RRP £5.79

I have only just started using this shampoo bar but needed to include it in this post despite not giving it a full trial. Despite being a smaller bar, it doesn’t seem to use as much product per wash compared to the Eco Warrior bar implying it will last longer (picture shows new, unused bar on the left vs bar used for two washes on the right).

The thing I noticed which was consistent between bars is the necessary for patience to get enough product for a good lather. But once this is achieved, the result is squeaky clean. Both products weren’t particularly drying or moisturising, so you just achieve a neutral clean. Both bars had a pleasant, mild scent which does not linger in your hair once it is rinsed and dried which some people prefer. If you do like to have some scent to your hair or require extra moisturiser, I recommend following up with a conditioner but this is by no means necessary!

Shampoo is a product I personally use a lot of due to my hair length and type so it is great to find plastic free alternatives although they are not 100% perfect! These were definitely a step in the right direction and may work better for you than they do for me depending on your hair type.

Thus concludes my student friendly guide to plastic reduction series! I am so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Sustainability Kent blog as a Sustainability Development Goals Ambassador. Although I will no longer be a student in the very near future, I hope to continue sharing my personal plastic reduction journey perhaps through a newly created blog dedicated to plastic reduction. Thank you to everyone who has given me such wonderful feedback and I hope the series is helpful to students and non-students alike!

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I purchased these items with my own money, they are not a gift nor is this post sponsored.

Check out Eco Warrior and Faith in Nature below:

https://www.ecowarriorsoap.co.uk/

https://www.faithinnature.co.uk/

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog post #3

Guest post by SDG Ambassador Julia Daly

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Hello and welcome to today’s blog post! I know it’s cliché how Brits always comment on the weather but wow what a heatwave the UK is experiencing right now! Hopefully this week’s sustainability blog post can take your mind off of it for a couple of minutes! Today, I will be introducing Conchus: a small soap making business inspired by reducing waste. All their soaps are 100% natural, vegan, palm oil and cruelty free and they don’t use any plastic packaging.

Conchus are currently in the process of opening a physical store in Devon and have temporarily closed the shop on their website for the relocation and restock. You can still view their products on their Facebook page to see what they have available and keep up with the reopening on their Instagram. I highly recommend checking out the large range of products that they stock. Not only are there a bunch of shampoo and body bars to suit a vast array of skin and hair types, there are also accessories and skin care items available. With my oily hair and skin needs, I was keen to try out their products for people with my skin type. I ended up ordering the Beam shampoo bar (one of four shampoo bars) and the Conch facewash bar (currently their only facewash bar).

Stand-out product: Conch facewash bar, £4.30

Without a doubt, this facewash bar is worth a try. All of the claims in its description the website are absolutely 100% true. It lathers up slightly but not too much, you only need a tiny amount, making it last ages (I am still using the one I purchased in September 2019) and it doesn’t dry out your face too much but leaves you feeling cleansed. It does not have any exfoliation properties (which it doesn’t claim to do) so I used this in combination with the Ethique scrub bars once a day, in the mornings – a match made in heaven.

I took the facewash bar with me on two field trips, which were part of my degree, both of which required packing light for flights. For one of the trips, I only took one backpack as my entire luggage for a week-long trip! As someone who has travelled a ton, I can definitely say that carrying a facewash bar was way more convenient than the stress of finding a plastic container that was less than 100ml, and then transferring a liquid facewash into it which I have done many times in the past. The bar took up very little space and easily slotted into a pocket in my toiletry bag. Very low maintenance and effortless.

Something that is definitely worth noting and is mentioned in the description for every shampoo bar, is the necessity of noting the hardness of the water in your area. This made a HUGE difference in the way that the shampoo bar performed in my experience. Living in Canterbury and being a total newb to the shampoo bar game, I found the shampoo bar very difficult to use initially. It kept clumping in my hair and I would spend ages trying to get it all out. I was really gutted that it wasn’t working with my hair but suspected that the hardness was the culprit. There is a lot of guidance on the Conchus website on tips to make the shampoo bars work in hard water areas and they stock a rinse to combat its effect. Thinking about the realistic student situation, you really want to be streamlining your haircare routine and this extra step didn’t seem to fit into it, but there are definitely options to make it work if you’re willing to give it a go. When I visited Devon and stayed in an area with significantly softer water over 2019 winter holidays, I brought the shampoo bar with me and the results were a stark contrast. The shampoo bar worked like a dream and I didn’t even really need to condition my hair at all following the wash. If you live in an area with softer water, one of the shampoo bars would be an ideal trial product.

Devon is very lucky to have great countryside walks (me on one of them featured above) and two plastic-free soap shops – both Conchus and Soap Daze (see previous post) are now based there! I hope that you enjoyed today’s post and it helps you on your plastic-free journey!

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I purchased these items with my own money, they are not a gift nor is this post sponsored.

Check out the Conchus

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/conchuslife/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/conchuslife/

Website: http://www.conchus.co.uk/

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog post #2

Guest post by SDG Ambassador Julia Daly

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Happy August! How was your #PlasticFreeJuly? I’m excited to continue my plastic reduction recommendations! Today’s blog post is all about the amazing Soap Daze. Soap Daze is a soap and skincare brand and all products are vegan and palm oil free. The soaps are handmade and can be purchased in a number of fragrances, textures and sizes. Can I just express how much I love the aesthetic of the brand? Simple and elegant.

When I first checked out the online shop, I was most drawn to the unwrapped soap range that come on a rope. To me, this screams convenience and reduction in wasted packaging. For my first order, I purchased two unwrapped soap on a ropes and received the order with a couple of free small samples which I used as regular hand soaps – very very useful. I should also say that these soaps on a rope are massive and last ages.

I made a second order of soaps during the initial couple of weeks of the pandemic and lockdown. Where I was quarantining, all that was available was regular liquid handwash which quickly dried out my skin. All soaps in Superdrug, Boots and grocery stores were sold out online. I ordered a couple of soaps from Soap Daze and received my order with some more free samples! Hands down, these saved my hands. They are much more nourishing, moisturising and kind to the skin than your average liquid hand soap, and better for the environment.

The owner has recently opened up a physical store in Devon which looks extremely inviting! If you’re in the Exeter area, you can buy products in store and cut both your carbon footprint and plastic consumption! Both the online and physical store sell a lot more than soap and have branched out into makeup, deodorant, skincare and haircare.

Stand-out product: Unwrapped Black Pepper and Ginger Soap on a Rope, Extra Large Soap, Vegan Soap £7.95

This was the one of the first products I tried and loved the light fragrance, pretty swirls and good lather. I used this in the shower and it lasted a good two and half months. The rope lended itself nicely to hang the soap effortlessly in my shower. The photo is of the full-size unwrapped soap and one of the free samples. I have tried two other fragrances of the large soaps but this one was by far my favourite. If you are looking for a soap that exfoliates as you wash, there are a few that have harsher textures.

For the price point, and how long it lasts, I would highly recommend the unwrapped soaps to students looking to reduce their plastic consumption. I personally love trying different fragrances and textures of soaps and like to mix it up. With the huge range of fragrances, you’re spoilt for choice! If you think friends or family would like the products, there is also the option to create your own gift boxes and give someone the opportunity to try a range of products. Another plus!

I hope you enjoyed the second blog post in this series! Stay tuned for the next post coming soon!

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I purchased these items with my own money, they are not a gift nor is this post sponsored.

Soap Daze website: https://soapdaze.com/

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog series

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog series by SDG Ambassador Julia

It’s #plasticfreeJuly! There are so many reasons to start reducing your plastic consumption and join the plastic-free hype! Reducing your carbon footprint or plastic consumption may not be the first thing on your mind right now with a global pandemic afoot, but if this something you’d like to try out, this series might be of interest!

Having said that, there are many perks to going plastic free specifically with your toiletries at this particular time. I don’t know about you, but I am still finding that the regular pharmacies or drug stores still don’t stock my go-to products. Why not try something new in a time when we are literally washing our hands to save lives.

For the first blog in this series I’d like to introduce Ethique. I tried Ethique mostly because I had been following them on Instagram for a while and was super intrigued by their products (top tip: how do you find ethical/plastic free brands? Instagram). Their tag line is #giveupthebottle and according to their website, claim to be plastic free, cruelty free, palm oil free and vegan which checked all the boxes for my personal preferences. They are also more accessible as they are sold online at Holland & Barrett, both in store and online and are also now sold by Boots online.

My initial thought was that the pricing was way over what I would usually budget for these kinds of products, but I am willing to invest in a product if it lasts longer than something that I paid less for. I tried a bunch of products, purchased their trial pack for oily skin, a moisturiser and a soap container. I also tried to buy most products when they were on sale.

From personal use, I have two stand-products that I can confidently say they worked well for my skin type. This review is based on my personal experience with the products so I can’t speak for all skin or hair types! For reference, my skin and hair are both oily.

Stand-out product 1 – Star of the show

Ethique Gingersnap Face Scrub. Price: £12.99

I purchased the multipack of Gingersnap Face Scrub without realising it was already included in the trial pack that I had also purchased. I was annoyed at this until I tried one and instead, I was delighted. This scrub is very, very good. I used it once a day, in the shower as a precursor to the facewash and have continued to enjoy the multipack after the trial one was used up. It lasts a while as long as you don’t get it too wet in the shower and is very easy to use. I’d say each bar probably lasted about a month making the 4 pack last about 4 months but may not be as cheap. I have tried many an exfoliation product and this has to be one of the best ones. Considering you average about £3.25 for each individual bar in the pack, I’d say this is around the same price as decent scrub you’d get at Boots or Superdrug.

Stand-out product 2 – Honourable mention

Ethique Sweet Orange and Vanilla Butter Block. Price: £11.99

The butter block was the most luxurious product out of all the products. The scent is quite strong but not overpowering but is sweet smelling – definitely a win if you are a fan of sweet and fruity scents. The instructions say to use it right after showering but I found it would kind of slide off my skin a bit too much. If used on dry skin though, it worked much better. Storage-wise it is a bit tricky. Warm surroundings will cause the oils to seep into whatever container you keep it in so be sure to keep it in something substantial. It is very moisturising and I used it every other day or every two days on my arms and legs. I think for the price it is impractical to purchase this on the regular, but as a gift for a friend or if you find it on sale, a gift for yourself.

Overall, I enjoyed the products that I purchased from Ethique but found that some either didn’t work as well as other products I have used or I found them expensive for what they were and therefore haven’t included them in this budget conscious review. Thank you so much for reading this far and I hope you enjoyed the first post of this blog series. I hope to do a couple more brand reviews as part of this series so watch this space!

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I purchased these items with my own money, they are not a gift nor is this post sponsored.

Ethique’s website: https://ethique.co.uk/

Ethique at Boots: https://www.boots.com/sitesearch?searchTerm=Ethique

Ethique at Holland & Barrett: https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/info/ethique/

Sustainable Development Goals Ambassador: Meet Julia

A bit about me: Julia Daly

Trying plastic-free toiletries so you don’t have to

In a simpler time – before the global pandemic – as the new academic year began, I had made it my personal mission to reduce my plastic consumption within the realm of my toiletries. It may seem a trivial place to start but even everyday toiletries such as shower gel can be really harmful to the environment and many are contained in plastic bottles which aren’t often recycled (We Are Drops, 2018). Shower gels can also contain microplastics which can harm marine wildlife (Rosney, 2016). Considering all of this and the nature of plastic itself, taking years to degrade, as a conservation student, I have challenged myself to reduce my plastic consumption.

From my reading of the topic over the last couple of years, from blogs to Instagram and speaking to others, it seems the main reasons that people haven’t already gone for reduced plastic toiletries is 1. the convenience of getting it at the nearest shop or pharmacy 2. the price as plastic free options are often more expensive. These are of course valid points especially for busy students who don’t have the time to be trekking to specialist stores to pay double or tipple what they could get with less hassle. Saving that coin for nights out or textbooks – I totally relate. Being a student ambassador and being part of the sustainability community at Kent provided a platform to feedback on putting these assumptions to the test and trying out some of these alternative products so that you can save your time, money and energy.

Since starting at the University of Kent in 2019, I have been purchasing a range of plastic free, or plastic reduced products from many different brands, both online and in store, to try and see if there are any good plastic free alternative toiletry products that are accessible to students and are worth the money. I bought and tried them so you don’t have to. The result of my experience will be a series of blog posts on the stand-out products that I recommend having weighed up their use, convenience, aesthetics, accessibility, and price. If you are looking to start your plastic free journey but have no idea where to start, are well on your journey but are looking to expand your toiletry bag, or are merely interested in the topic then watch this space!

Check these out for further information…

We Are Drops, 2018. Soap vs. shower gel: the final battle. Available from: https://www.wearethedrops.com/blog/en/2018/01/23/soap/ [Accessed 30 May 2020].

Rosney, D., 2016. BBC Newsbeat. Why microbeads in shower gels are bad for marine life. Available from: www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35261018/why-microbeads-in-shower-gels-are-bad-for-marine-life [Accessed 30 May 2020].

 

How to make recycled planters from household objects

During any extended periods of time at home, it’s always good to surround yourself with plant life.  A sunflower growing at the bottom of the garden can bring such joy, and nurturing aromatic and tasty herbs on your windowsill can bring even more satisfaction. All you need is a pack of seeds and a handful of compost and off you go! No outside space, or stuck without a pot? Here’s how to convert some household objects into planters without the hassle or expense of visiting the shops.

Newspaper Pots

 You will need:

  • Newspaper
  • Tin can
  • Compost
  • Seeds

Making paper pots out of newspapers is fun and a great way to recycle.  Once the pots are made, you can plant them up and wait for your produce to grow, place the pots directly into the ground without having to disturb your plants. Easy, so lets give it a try.

  • Find an old newspaper and take one sheet out
  • Fold length ways so you have a long strip of newspaper
  • Take a recycled tin can (with lid removed) and place the solid end along the folded edge of the newspaper
  • Wrap the paper loosely around the tin and roll around until you have a tube around the tin
  • Fold one edge of the paper into the hole of the tin
  • Remove the tin from its sleeve
  • Put the tin, flat end first, back into the paper pot and squish the paper flat inside the pot
  • Ta da! Your pot is ready to fill with compost
  • Water your pot, then plant up with seed (sunflowers or beans are good) and cover with a thin layer of compost
  • Water again and place in a warm sunny spot, keep moist
  • When your plants have grown and are ready to plant outside, place the entire pot into the soil, the paper will break down and your plants will grow happily out of the pot

Fabric Tin Can Planters

You will need:

  • Tin cans
  • Hammer & Nail
  • Doubled sided sticky tape
  • Recycled fabric (in strips)
  • Scissors
  • Compost & Seeds (seasonal herbs or bulbs)

Brighten up any windowsill with these easy to make recycled fabric tin planters.  Perfect for growing herbs or spring bulbs in on a budget and great for the environment too.

  • Wash out your used tin cans, remove any paper labels and bang two or three drainage holes in the bottom using a hammer and nail (on a work surface like a chopping board).
  • Cut some old fabric into strips about 2cm thick and long enough to wrap around your tin. They don’t have to be neat.
  • Stick a strip of double sided sticky tape around the tin at the bottom of your tin can, cut to make a sticky ring all around.
  • Add one strip of fabric on top of the tape, cut off any excess fabric so each end meets.
  • Add another layer of sticky tape above your fabric and overlay another strip of fabric in another colour for contrast, trim and make sure you don’t leave a gap between the first and second fabric strip, each strip should overlap the one before.
  • Repeat the process all the way up the tin until you reach the top, trim any excess fabric around the top edge, or fold the fabric over the top if the edge is sharp, being careful to stick it down with a layer of tape first.
  • Add decorations to finish your multi fabric masterpiece! Wrap string around it and tie in a bow, add ribbon or glue on buttons, let your creativity shine.
  • Now your planter is ready to plant; add seed compost to the tin, water, then sprinkle your herb seeds, or plant a Spring bulb following the packet guidelines. Cover with another layer of compost, water again and keep in a warm sunny spot watering regularly. Then see your creation come to life!

Recycled Milk Bottle 5x Ways

You will need:

  • Plastic Milk Bottles (x5)
  • Craft Knife
  • Hammer & Nail (or sharp pointed object like a scewer)
  • Compost
  • Seeds – bird seeds and herb seeds to plant
  • Marker pen
  • Kebab sticks
  • String

Making a new use for any object is fun, but making five uses out of your used plastic milk bottles is incredible!

  1. Bird feeder
  • Draw a large circle on the bottle to make a hole to let birds inside to feed on the seed (at least 2 cm from the bottom)
  • Carefully cut the hole out using a craft knife
  • Screw a smaller hole underneath the big hole
  • Insert a kebab stick into the small hole to act as a perch for the birds to land on
  • Screw a hole through the lid of the bottle, feed an arms length of string through the hole, and tie several knots in the end that screws inside the bottle
  • Loop the other end of string and tie so you have a loop you can hang on a tree branch or hook outside
  • Screw the lid on the bottle
  • Fill the base with birdseed, its ready to go!
  1. Sprinkling watering bottle
  • Remove the lid from your bottle and place over something soft like a cushion, screw side up (to ensure a good flow)
  • With a screw or hammer and nail, make several small holes in the lid for the water to sprinkle out
  • Fill the bottle with water
  • Screw the lid back on and you have a practical sprinkling watering bottle to place near your plants, this is especially good for seedlings and your plants that need delicate watering
  1. Scoop
  • Place your water bottle on its side with the handle facing up
  • Draw a scoop shape around the bottle starting from the top edge of the bottle, half way along, down in a rainbow shaped arch to the bottom edge of the bottle at the base
  • Cut along the top edge to meet each scoop shaped arch
  • Job done, you have a scoop perfect for filling your pots from the compost bag
  1. Plant labels
  • With any spare plastic you have, utilise for plant labels by cutting into strips about 1cm wide by 8cm long (finger size)
  • Trim one edge to a point and set aside for your planting projects
  • Use a marker pen to label your pots so the plant names do not wash off when watering
  • You have a invaluable stash of plant labels at your fingertips!
  1. Self-draining planter
  • Cut a milk bottle around its centre in half carefully using a craft knife
  • Remove the lid from the bottle and turn the milk bottle top half upside down
  • Place the top half of the bottle back into the bottom half of the bottle, so the bottle ‘mouth’ is face down at the bottle base
  • You are ready to fill the container with compost and plant some seeds! When you water, the water will collect in the base and your plant will be happy and stay moist

Good luck with making these, and send some lovely photos to kentcog@kent.ac.uk

All the best,

Emily Hill Kent Community Oasis Garden Coordinator

The Zero-Waste Retail Revolution

Guest Post and infographic by The Cleaning Services Group

What Are Zero-Waste Stores?

A zero-waste store is designed in such a way as to comply with the principles of the zero-waste movement. It achieves this by eliminating as much waste as possible either through lowering the amount of waste produced or by changing how waste is managed.

Zero-waste typically feature bulk-style bins and dispensers. Customers bring their own containers and can select the exact quantities they need. This helps to cut down on unnecessary packaging while also preventing food waste.

The Rise of Zero-Waste Stores Around the World

Over the past few years, the zero-waste movement has become a worldwide phenomenon. According to the Bepakt Index, there are now around 150 packaging-free markets around the world. We are also now beginning to see some major players in the supermarket world, such as Waitrose and Lidl, launch their own waste reduction initiatives.

Zero-Waste: A Response to Customer Demand

On average, England generates 177 million tonnes of waste every year. The rising popularity of zero-waste stores indicate a growing customer interest in eco-friendly alternatives that help to cut down on this number.

The 2015 Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report shows that 73% of consumers would switch brands if there was something similar on the market that supports a good cause. Taking a more eco-friendly approach that emphasises sustainability has also been associated with greater transaction spends and increased brand loyalty.

Learn More About the Zero-Waste Retail Revolution

The below infographic from the team at The Cleaning Services Group investigates how these “zero-waste” stores aim to make consumers be more mindful of the environmental impact of their shopping habits. The graphic outlines the many business benefits of going zero-waste and also offers some practical tips to help retailers get started on their own zero-waste journey today.

Eating, Building, Moving: 3 Industries That Could Hold The Key To A More Sustainable Future

This is a guest blog from James Hale, a graduate of the University of Kent. Having studied English and American Literature, James now works as a freelance writer, penning his thoughts on anything and everything of interest. He’s passionate about sustainability, and loves helping to spread the word about how we can all factor it into our day to day lives.

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It’s not uncommon to see concerns about sustainability appearing in the news. While unfortunately it’s not always to decry a positive update, it’s certainly a good thing that this vital issue is so prominent in the public eye. One recent story, however, caught my eye – the news that some of the world’s most prominent investors have called on the largest fast food companies in the world to act urgently on the climate and water risks in their supply chains.

This got me thinking a bit. Of course this is a step in the right direction, but one statistic jumped out at me: “animal agriculture is the world’s highest-emitting sector without a low-carbon plan.” This makes perfect sense with the sheer scale of animal farming in mind. But which other industries are the most harmful to our natural world? And where are the most significant opportunities for change and improvement?

After a little bit of digging, a few stats emerged that I found fairly surprising. Particularly the fact that 71% of all man-made emissions since the dawn of the industrial age have come from just 100 companies. We’re constantly reminded of the things we can do to improve our carbon footprint – recycling, bringing our own bags when we shop, turning the lights off. But it’s clear that while we all have a part to play, the largest responsibility falls on industry. But which industries?

With this in mind, and following on from some of the other posts I’ve written for the sustainability blog, I thought it would be good to take a look at a few of the industries that have – or could have – the biggest impact on the environment, and in particular, those with the potential to have the most positive effects if appropriate steps are taken.

How to define environmental impact

But first, a quick note. It’s very easy to band about phrases such as ‘environmental impact’ without much clarity on what they actually mean. With the risk of being reductive in this sense, I think it’s important to establish how we actually define how ‘environmentally friendly an industry is.

A simple approach can be to simply look at the cumulative estimated emissions (in the form of various greenhouses gasses such as Co2, methane or nitrous oxide) that a given industry is responsible for. But while this is a vital statistic, focusing solely on this one aspect of sustainability arguably isn’t the best way to paint a wider picture.

Instead, for the purposes of this article, I’ve decided to take a slightly broader approach, and consider the far-reaching and hypothetical impacts an industry can have. This includes things like the role an industry has on consumer behaviour, the potential it has to change the way we act and live, and various ways different supply chains can impact the natural world. Basically, we’re talking big picture, and I’m not trying to make any definitive claims!

1: Agriculture/Food production

It makes sense to start with the industry that triggered this train of thought. Food production is one of the building blocks of our civilisation, and it’s hard to underestimate its scale and potential impact. The agriculture industry is so vast, and involves so many different stages and sub-industries, that it clearly takes responsibility for a huge majority of our global carbon footprint.

How does agriculture affect the environment?

This is hard to summarise succinctly and with any true degree of accuracy, but simply by considering the vast number of elements involved in the agriculture industrial supply chain, it’s easy to see just how significant its impact is. It would be foolish to attempt to list all of these, but instead let’s look at a few diverse elements:

Deforestation

In order to farm, land is required. And in order to make more land available, those pesky forests that produce oxygen and provide a self-sustaining biodiverse ecosystem need to go. According to British environmentalist Norman Myers, 5% of deforestation is due to cattle ranching, 19% due to over-heavy logging, 22% due to the growing sector of palm oil plantations, and 54% due to slash-and-burn farming (burning large areas to create a layer of ash, resulting in nutrient-rich soil.)

Food packaging

Single-use disposable plastics for packaging food are a hot topic at the moment, and the absurdity of the amount of plastic we use in food packaging (think mushrooms wrapped in clingfilm in a plastic holder wrapped in clingfilm) is hard to deny. It’s easy to forget that this is a part of the food production industry, but with food products representing a huge amount of our regular purchases, this is a vital consideration.

Pollutants

 

When producing food, all kinds of pollutants are used in the process. From pesticides and herbicides used to ensure quality, to emissions from farming equipment and machinery, and even the pollution of surface and groundwaters from waste, the agriculture industry contributes a staggering number of pollutants to the environment en masse every year.

How could agriculture make a difference?

Far be it for me to suggest how to fix the agriculture industry, but it’s worth noting that on the whole, if broad and far-reaching improvements were made to the way we farm and distribute food produce, the impact on the globe could be massive. If we’re going to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, big changes are needed in farming.

Fundamentally, a global shift towards agreed upon low-carbon guidelines and plans would be an important first step. Agreements between suppliers on clear policies that take steps to reduce freshwater impacts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be vital. Similarly, while industries such as the automotive industry have taken steps towards quantitative accountability, it’s crucial that global quantifiable agriculture targets are agreed upon, set, and regularly reported on. Put simply, we need a clear, numbers-driven plan to reduce the harm farming is doing to the environment.

The widespread adoption of sustainable practices including water management, healthy soil maintenance, pollution reduction and biodiversity promotion will be essential – and these will need to be established in clear guidelines and targets for farmers and producers to meet. If we can achieve this, the potential positive impact – or at least the reduction of the current scale of damage – is hard to understate.

2: Construction and Building Design

However well (or poorly) we treat the environment as a society, we still have to live in it. As humans have evolved, we’ve increased our proficiency in design and construction to such an extent that architecture has become one of the most significant industries in terms of our impact of the natural world.

I wrote an entire piece about this on the sustainability blog a little while ago, but seeing as we’re discussing industries with the biggest role to play here, I would be remiss not to include it again. I’ll provide a slightly condensed analysis this time though!

How does architecture affect the environment?

Put simply, the buildings we construct and reside in have a huge effect on how sustainably we live as a society. The supply chain involved in architecture is vast, but generally the impact of building design comes down to two things: construction, and the way we use buildings in the long term.

Construction

The construction industry alone is responsible for a huge amount of environmental damage, which can be attributed to a few different key areas. These include waste (60 million tonnes of materials are disposed of every year without ever being used, due to damage or inaccurate ordering), the emissions from large-scale and long-distance transportation of materials and machinery, and on-site emissions, identified as one of the main causes of CO2 pollution in the UK (with up to 40% of carbon emissions attributable to construction).

Building use

It’s not just the way we construct buildings that has a profound and measurable effect on the environment – it’s the way we use those buildings too. Once construction is complete, a structure’s environmental impact doesn’t go away, it changes. The parameters are different, but the effects are just as significant.

The way a building provides heating, water, ventilation, and energy all play a part in its overall sustainability. The supply of these elements, the energy efficiency of the interior spaces, and things such as the disposal of wastewater need to be considered, and can have both negative and positive effects.

How can building design and construction make a difference?

When thinking about this, it’s important to get to grips with the term ‘sustainable’, as this is really key. Architecture and construction aren’t ever going to have zero impact on the environment, and yet they’re a necessary part of our societal development – so the specifics of sustainable development, that is development which doesn’t involve the irreparable destruction of resources, is crucial.

Sustainable construction practices are already in place which can help us to achieve this goal. This predominantly involves the use of things like nontoxic materials, and renewable resources (such as harvested wood and glass) in the actual building process.

On top of this, it’s worth noting that the way architects approach the design of a building could also have a significant long-term benefit to the overall sustainability of our future. Simple amendments such as the inclusion of effective daylighting through use of something like a glass rooflight, or the inclusion of effective ventilation and natural heating can make a huge difference.

This could have a massive impact on our natural world as we continue to expand our man made influence upon it; rather than reducing both space for natural ecologies to thrive and the amount of resources available to build, sustainable construction and design could ensure that we maintain the resources that are available as we provide efficient and sustainable new living and working spaces for our expanding population – all the while reducing the long-term environmental impact our buildings have.

3: Energy Industry & Fossil Fuel Producers

For many people, regardless of how aware they are of the overarching issues affecting our environment, the energy industry often springs to minds as one of – if not the – prime culprit when it comes to emissions. This opinion is hardly unfounded. In 2017, the ‘Carbon Majors Report’ from the CDP determined that “…a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions.”

The impact of those producing energy from fossil fuels is undeniably crucial. Reports such as the one cited above are illuminating, because they hone in specifically on the emissions of energy producers rather than simply analysing emissions on a national scale. And the data is telling.

How does the energy industry affect the environment?

In a very simple sense, the way the energy industry impacts the environment is fairly straightforward regardless of the specific energy source in question. When fossil fuels in any form are burned for energy, they create an abundance of harmful greenhouse gases that are emitted and dispersed into the atmosphere, which over time accumulate and cause an array of problems for the planet. (I know this is GCSE level science but that’s the gist of it!)

Large-scale emissions

These emissions are some of the most significant influencing factors in climate change, and the energy industry is responsible for a terrifying proportion of them. While other industries impact the Earth and sustainability in a variety of ways, the large scale emissions of harmful gases from the burning of fossil fuels have a direct impact on the natural state of our climate.

Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has increased by about 40% to above 400 parts per million, and current CO2 levels are 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last million years (possibly even more than any time in the last 25 million years.)

This increase of 100 ppm over 120 years is something that normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years, and is directly correlated with and attributable to the increase in burning of fossil fuels. As we continue to do so, we effectively wrap the world in a gaseous heat blanket, and the effects of this are causing chaos to our climate.

Coal (yes, we’re still burning it)

While the coal industry’s demise in the UK might make it easy to assume this is no longer a significant problem for the wider world, coal is still burned on a massive scale and remains one of the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Coal-fired power plants are the main contributor of Co2 into the atmosphere,

What’s particularly surprising is the extent to which this is true. With so many more ways of generating power sustainably, and so many more providers of green energy, I was shocked to discover that between 1988 and 2015, a staggering 14.32% of ALL global greenhouse gas emissions originated from a single company: China Coal.

How can the energy industry make a difference?

The statistics acknowledged above are indicative of the sheer scale of the problem presented by the energy industry, and it’s clear that even a small but industry-wide modification would have a drastic and far-reaching positive impact.

When it comes to tackling emissions (which currently present the most significant threat) there are three fundamental approaches – plants that use fossil fuels need to either: 1. Remove the hazardous, pollutant-causing materials before they are burned 2. Find ways to contain and eliminate the pollutant after it has been created 3. Find methods and processes using the same materials that eliminate (or drastically reduce) the pollutants usually formed.

Fortunately, there are already technologies emerging which allow energy producers to do this. The collection of gases in other liquids or on solid materials that can then be destroyed safely, and other more complex techniques such as electrostatic precipitators or cyclones are also possible.

Of course the technology may already exist, but the challenge will be implementation. It’s clear that the energy industry has the potential to make a huge contribution to the reduction of global emissions. But this will either require the widespread and universal abandonment of fossil fuel-based energy production in favour of the adoption of sustainable energy production, or a large-scale investment (potentially involving a legal impetus from governments or other ruling bodies) in reducing the emissions of long-standing industries.

Conclusion

I’m certainly not trying to suggest I have all the answers when it comes to this vast, and vital topic. This is such a multi-faceted, complex issue that it really isn’t as simple as saying ‘if we do X, then everything will be fine’. What I think is important, however, is acknowledging how vital a role industry has to play, and coming to terms with both precisely which industries have the largest impact, and how they could potentially hold the key to a sustainable future.

We all know about the impact we can have individually, and there’s no denying how important this is, but when you break down the numbers it seems clear that for us to truly make a global difference as a species, we’re going to need to rip up the rulebook for industries everywhere – and whether it’s in the food we eat, the buildings in which we live and work, or the way we power our increasingly digital lives, we need to be bold in redefining how we operate as a society.

Plastic straws are a scapegoat. It’s time for big companies to change

Guest post: Mark Roberts is CEO of Conscious Creatives, a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a greater purpose through our work. Saving the planet by producing branding and digital communications packages that place sustainability at their heart and deliver long term revenue.

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There will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

That is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in after decades of plastic abuse.

Plastic straws, in particular, have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Poignant footage of a straw being removed from a turtle’s nose highlights the problem in microcosm.

But of the nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic waste that hits our oceans every year, just 2,000 tonnes comes in the form of plastic straws. That’s 0.22%. So is banning straws the answer our environment is crying out for?

The demand for change

Recently there has been a wave of support for plastic-free alternatives and for the reduction of plastic use altogether. Organisations like Surfers Against Sewage are helping people turn their local communities into plastic-free zones and companies like Costa Sunglasses are turning plastic waste into sunglasses.

This awareness is fantastic and it helps consumers understand the importance of why they should pay attention to this scourge of the sea. One comment I heard recently though was “I didn’t ask for my products to come in this kind of packaging, it’s not my fault”. Infuriating as the lack of responsibility was at the time, I actually understand why the comment was made.

At a time when climate change has become more and more evident and we have documentaries like Blue Planet 2 highlighting the over-consumption of plastics it now goes beyond the consumer to governments and corporations to do their part.

The role of politics and industry

At the highest level, the United Nations and its member states are working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These include 17 major areas of sustainability that go far beyond just plastic, seeking to eradicate hunger and social inequality as well.

The corporation part comes from the work done by the UN Global Compact, which partners with businesses all over the world to collaborate on the agendas set out by the UN. Some of the largest businesses in the world are part of this group and in theory this is a great step towards the highest authorities taking responsibility.

However, Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director for the UN Global Compact explained at a recent sustainable business summit that we need to be spending around 2 trillion dollars per year to meet these goals. At the moment, we are well short of that target.

To most of us, 2 trillion USD sounds like an awful lot. Here in the UK, the high street banks pull in 12 trillion GBP per year, with a shadow banking sector adding another 2 trillion GBP. It’s not that the money is not available to solve all of these problems — the reason we have not solved them is that they are simply less important than profits for the elite. If one sector from one country could save the planet, imagine what would happen if the whole world took part.

Single-use plastics: the consumer dilemma

As consumers we are stuck in two minds: either we wait for the giant companies to do something when they feel like it, or we engage our inner activist and make choices that force businesses to listen. The person who made the statement above may feel powerless, frustrated and ultimately a little guilty that their consumer habits are impacting the world in a way they don’t want. But there are reasons for optimism.

One example of a good fight against a giant corporation is Greenpeace’s work against Coca-Cola. With all of their various products they produce an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles per year. They are very much at the centre of this problem.

Coca-Cola, however, have done what many corporations have done — acknowledged the problem but offered no real solution. Coca-Cola Europe have committed to their packaging being 100% reusable or recyclable by 2025, but that’s the only hardened objective that the entire company have set forth.

If we as consumers stopped buying Coca-Cola products then it wouldn’t take long before they noticed. This is where the power of the consumer comes in. Whether we feel like it or not — and it may be very difficult to accept — we do have a choice.

Other organisations like Iceland have vowed to remove single-use plastics from their shelves, so why can’t companies like Coca-Cola follow suit?

Positive action you and I can take today

I offer then a conclusion that lies in action. No longer can we sit on the fence. We have to take a stand and ask ourselves what kind of state we wish to leave the planet in for future generations. The choices we make right now will affect billions of people, present and future.

It is not fair that the giant manufacturers are using our busy lives and desire for a good life as a way of profiteering at the cost of the planet. It’s now time to move past being angry at that fact and face the reality of what needs to be done.

I urge you to find your local zero waste store, explore what they have and ask lots of questions. By local, buy high quality and buy less. Look for the places that offer paper straws instead of plastic straws but understand that while this problem is way bigger than any individual, this is our stand for what we believe in.

If you feel inspired do not stop there. Speak to your local council, your local MPs and your local businesses to see what they are doing to tackle the problems that the environment faces. The more people that show they care, the more likely the big companies will make the changes required so that we as the consumer can have the choices we really want and the planet really needs.

 

Resolutions or not…this really is the right time to ditch the plastic in your life!

Is it just me or is there a large amount of news content about plastic recently?

Whether it is the disturbing sight of plastic bottles ruining the immersion of being in the deep blue as David Attenborough lulled you to sleep on a Sunday night with the incredible Blue Planet 2; the news that China will no longer take our recycled plastic due to pollution concerns; or yesterdays ban of Micro-beads coming into full affect; it seems plastic has finally fallen out of favour.

 

So with it being the new year why not add a truely transformative resolution to your list. Ditch the plastic.

A simple way to do this is to start with any single use plastic that is entirely unnecessary. Do you need that straw in your drink? If Weatherspoons and Jamie Oliver can ditch them for good, so can you! Can Tupperware serve you better than clingfilm? Does your coffee really taste as good out of that disposable?

There are so many things in our everyday life that create rubbish after just one use but with a few simple changes you could do away with single use plastic for good. It will definitely save you money, especially if the government decide to tax all single use plastics such as plastic bottles and the so called ‘latte levy’ which could reduce the 2.5 billion coffee cups we get through in the UK, of which only 1% are recycled.

If you would like to be part of the movement to ditch single use plastic head on over to the Global Good Award’s #pointlessplastic on Twitter to get some inspiration.