Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Greener Henley: Ruth Lindup

Greener Henley: Ruth Lindup

Ruth Lindup is a 41-year-old accountant who lives in Henley with her partner Martyn Chidwick

WE started reducing our environmental impact by changing to a renewable energy provider, Ecotricity, who are investing in new renewables, which is important to us as they are helping drive the change to cleaner energy that we need.

It seemed easier to transfer than I remembered it being in the past and we actually got a better tariff too (though we would have changed anyway as the difference doesn’t usually amount to much and we would more than offset it by turning the thermostat down or with other energy savings).

We are also planning to switch to their mobile phone network because it uses renewable energy.

Another easy change we made was to turn our thermostat down to 17 degrees, which makes a big difference to energy consumption (and cost because a one degree reduction can save around eight per cent).

Handily, I got a scarf for Christmas, which I sometimes wear in the evenings for extra warmth (if I’m not moving around much) and I actually quite like it.

Switching our energy provider made me think more about how we use energy. We only boil the water we need and we turn things off, including phones and tablets, overnight.

We’ve never had a tumble dryer and we now have a manual push mower, which I love using. We save water as much as we can by only using what we need, for example, turning the taps off when cleaning our teeth and taking shorter showers. We are on a meter so will be saving money too.

This then got me thinking about hot water. We’re also thinking about changing our shower when it needs replacing for an electric one because this would run off the renewable electricity (rather than gas).

In terms of food, we’ve bought as much organic food as we can find because I’ve been aware of how damaging the chemicals that are used can be to the environment as well as our health and that of other species.

I’m allergic to dairy so that was already ticked off and the statistics about how much pus and hormones are allowed in milk would be enough to make me go dairy-free if I wasn’t already.

More recently, I’ve stopped eating beef and lamb and reduced my meat intake generally. I’ve looked for local and seasonal food too and have found True Foods Co-op in Emmer Green to be great for this as well as the Willow Basket in Henley.

Both can also help reduce unecessary packaging. I learnt that paper bags have a much higher (up to four times) carbon footprint than plastic and that plastic is recycled but “downgraded” so that it can only be recycled a couple of times before it is ultimately landfill — a scary fact when you consider all the plastic in our lives, single use and everything else add up to unimaginable volumes.

Now I do my best to avoid packaging altogether, taking my own containers with me. Some things we’ve just stopped buying and others we are having a go at making ourselves, such as hummus, bread, crisps, mayonaise and soup.

Our diet is healthier as a result as we eat more loose veg and we have started growing some of our own, including cucumbers that are always packaged when bought. These have grown brilliantly in our small garden — we have done nothing other than stick the seeds in and given them the occasional watering.

When we do need to buy items, we look for second hand, or where that doesn’t work, choose quality products of natural materials that will last and can be fixed multiple times rather than plastic which can rarely be fixed.

We’ve just found an old, second hand gardening fork that is made from strong steel and wood, which is great because it still has years of life left.

I’ve also overhauled our toiletries and cleaning products. They contain so many ingredients and have a high carbon footprint from packaging and transportation because a lot of their weight and what we pay for is just water!

I’ve found great bars for washing, shampooing and even dishwashing, all made as locally as possible, and I buy a more environmentally friendly washing powder from True Food (we haven’t bothered with fabric conditioner for years
anyway).

We’ve stopped buying kitchen roll and buy a sustainably sourced toilet roll in a non-plastic wrapper, or sustainably sourced bamboo toilet roll.

For cleaning I use diluted vinegar for most things (it’s great for limescale) and as long as it is not too dilute it is antibacterial. If something slightly abrasive is needed I use bicarbonate.

This has saved so much money, reduced our clutter and seriously cut our waste/recycling as well as being much kinder on the environment, including marine life.

Our aim is not to fly, so this year we are holidaying in Cornwall and travelling by train. Next year we have booked France, which we will also be doing by train. We have done this before and really enjoyed it because the holiday feels like it starrts straightaway (unlike flying where hanging around in an airport seems to suck the life out of me).

Another area we have tackled has been buying “stuff” which can add up to a significant portion of your carbon footprint. This is harder in some ways because it’s such a broad category.

A few years ago, I came across a book by Marie Kondo, a tidying expert, and her method really helped.

After a huge declutter following her method, we passed on stuff that we felt that we no longer needed using Freegle, Gumtree and local charity shops (we had collected a lot of vintage stuff while in our old, Victorian terrace). As well as feeling a huge weight lifted, we now know exactly what we have, so if something in a shop window catches my eye I have a one-in-one-out principle.

For every item that I want to buy, I have to identify one of the same that I’m prepared to let go. More often than not, there’s nothing that I’m prepared to let go of so I end up not buying, even though it was something I initially thought I really wanted.

Another approach that I’ve used is to make a note (in my phone) of things I want and wait 30 days before I buy it.

Things nearly always get forgotten about for long enough for me to realise that I didn’t really want them that much anyway and as I can’t think of anything I have gone back and bought, it must be working.

We’ve always bought second hand and donated to charity shops but now I do even more to divert things from ending up in landfill, or try to find a use for something before it is recycled.

I’ve been surprised by what people can make use of. Freegle is great for that and there are lots of “selling” pages where you can just put things for free.

Digital storage is something that I need to go back to. I cleared all my emails a while ago (from more than 2,000) but they have built up again. I need a better system! Also my photos need some serious editing and organising so that I can keep on top of them and keep their footprint down. I read on someone’s blog that they had got theirs down to 12 a year. I am not sure I could ever be that ruthless but I can definitely do more.

I have learnt that our digital footprint has a high carbon impact due to the number and size of servers needed today, including large air conditioning units needed to cool them down using extra energy, and that they are even now burying them under the sea, which just feels so drastic and simply not a sustainable approach.

We found out about Ecosia which we now use as our search engine because they plant trees based on a certain number of searches (around one tree per 45 searches).

So far, I am loving all the changes we’ve made and there’s still more we’d like to do. While some things (like organic food) can sometimes be a bit more expensive, this is more than offset by lowering our thermostat and other energy saving measures, plus we find we are buying a lot less in general and feeling content with, appreciating and looking after what we’ve got and that feels good.

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