Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Author: Prisha Hill

Climate Impacts On Water Supplies

Water – essential to all life on Earth, yet a resource we take for granted everyday. We watch heart-wrenching footage on TV depicting young children walking for miles to collect a container full of muddy water but rarely stop to consider how lucky we are to have clean water at the turn of a tap. We drink it, wash in it, cook with it… we use it all day everyday and can’t imagine living without having clean water so readily available, but that luxury is set to come to an end within just 25 years unless we take action.

Over 65% of fresh water on Earth is found in icebergs and glaciers (which, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you is currently melting at an alarming rate into the sea), and just over 30% is found in ground water. Only about 0.3% of our fresh water is found in easily accessible lakes, rivers and swamps.

Of the freshwater currently available we already use more than half. We also store 5 times the total of all the Earth’s rivers behind dams and release the equivalent volume of freshwater each year.

Approximately 80% of all industrial and municipal wastewater is released directly into the environment without any prior treatment, with sludge from water treatment plants being spread as fertilizer on farm land – I’ve previously talked about the impact of microplastics (found in this form of fertilizer) in a previous post.

Global water use has increased almost 8 times in the last 100 years. 70% of global water use is for agriculture and, rather worryingly, we lose around 3 billion litres of water a day through leakage in England alone!

Over 50% of the UK’s total river length, some 389,000Km, has been physically modified and therefore affecting the habitat of organisms. It has been estimated that we have seen a decline of 81% in the population of 881 freshwater species between 1970 and 2012.

Today, water related diseases (such as malaria) cause around 3.4 million deaths around the world each year. Although it has now been eradicated in Britain, malaria was once commonplace here until there were concerted efforts in swamp drainage, changes in land use and the development of pesticides.

Ah pesticides… The development of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, as well as increases in their use, has led to an exponential increase in the concentrations observed in freshwater systems. Pharmaceuticals are manufactured with the intention of having an effect on biological systems – approximately 90% of human drug targets were shared with 23 assessed mammalian species. The manufacture of industrial machinery and products continues to produce toxic compounds; for example: flame retardants are widely used in both commercial and domestic products and are associated with significant disruption of the endocrine system of organisms. We are literally killing eco-systems with man-made synthetic chemicals.

Water Footprint – items often (although not always) require water in their growth/manufacture but so too does the packaging it comes in. We also need to be mindful of where the item has come from as it may be available locally, depending on season, but it will likely have been imported from somewhere there is a water shortage, further damaging the area.

The amount of water used for domestic purposes is closely related to its availability, the amount of effort it takes to access it and, surprisingly, our income levels… that’s right, people who earn more tend to also have a higher water consumption!

The UK daily water use average is 149 litres per person. As a rough guide:

  • Toilet flush = 12 litres
  • Bath = 100 litres
  • Shower (more than 10 minutes) = 200 litres
  • Dishwasher = 50 litres
  • Brushing teeth (with tap running) = 5 litres
  • Drinking, cooking and cleaning = 10 litres
  • Car washing (with hose) = 200 litres

Hopefully, you’ve already spotted one or two areas where you can improve your water consumption from that list. You can also reduce your water use by investing in domestic water recycling schemes that reuse water within the house, and of course by collecting rainwater in a water butt to use in the garden during the drier months.

Cape Town, in South Africa, almost ran out of water but through drastic action they managed to avert disaster. From showering for less than 2 minutes and not flushing after each toilet use to seeing who could go longest between washing clothes, the residents certainly had to make their fair of sacrifices. Each person was restricted to using a maximum of 50 litres per day – do you think you could manage that amount? Please join me in keeping track of how much you currently use and then seeing how close you can get it to 50 litres per day!

The New Normal

It’s fast becoming something of a cliche these days but the Covid-19 lockdown is already feeling normal for a lot of people and, dare I say it, I’m actually starting to enjoy it! I miss our families but I love not spending 90 minutes driving to go and see them. I know it is a truly awful time for a lot of people too – some are in mourning for a loved one they can’t say a proper “goodbye” to; some are experiencing domestic abuse; some are desperately missing family and some are just going stir-crazy being stuck inside. Everyday since lockdown began, however, I’ve been trying to look for and focus on the positives which now has me hoping things never go back to “normal”.

Whilst the world has been staying at home the environment has had some much needed breathing space – in just a few weeks (so far) the world is already showing signs of healing! Animals are venturing further into towns and cities. I live right next to a main road and normally have a constant sound of traffic going by as background noise; but now that background noise is birdsong and insects interspersed with the odd car/lorry going by. In 4 weeks my asthma has significantly improved – I no longer need to triple-check I have an inhaler with me when venturing out.

We need to keep this going! This crisis has shown us that we absolutely can make the changes necessary, we just need to keep up the momentum. Lets pick litter so its not a threat to the wildlife returning to our towns and cities. Lets continue to leave the car at home as much as possible to limit pollution.

Lets set ourselves a challenge to repair everything we can before thinking about replacing. With so many shops closed at the moment have you come across an item you normally would have thrown out and replaced? If so, now is the perfect time to have a little tinker and see if you can repair it. Chances are there are several YouTube videos explaining how to do it; and if it all goes horribly wrong then you can go ahead and replace it after all.

Supermarket shopping has been a bit of an issue recently with so many people clearing all the shelves prior to us going in to lockdown. Thankfully I did manage to get everything on my list this week (and several things that weren’t!) but in the first weeks of lockdown I had to literally take whatever I could get and only just managed to scrape together enough food to feed us all. Sadly, this meant more packaging than I would normally like coming into our home… still not enough to fill a wheelie bin in that time but it was still more than I was comfortable with.

Being stuck at home is also a fantastic opportunity to try a new hobby or maybe perfect a craft you’ve previously only dabbled with. Making soap for example is easy to do and is one less thing you need to add to that shopping list. Maybe you’ve always liked the idea of making your own clothes but didn’t know where to start? Now is a great time to learn. In fact, do you think you could go a year without buying any new clothes for yourself?

Of course not everyone is sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. Working from home for some is super easy and they much prefer Donald Ducking a Skype call to being in the office, but for some working from home can be either difficult or impossible at the moment – juggling childcare with working full time – but a lot of employers are seeing the benefits. With lower overheads, no commuting and the same level of productivity, I truly hope most employers will take this opportunity to continue to encourage office-based staff to work from home once schools and nurseries/child-minders are up and running again.

Stay safe everyone and enjoy the lovely fresh air of a healing world.

Climate Letter

I recently heard about Letters To The Earth but I misread the concept to begin with and thought it was just a general climate change based letter, not specifically addressed to the Earth. So here is the letter that I would have submitted.

My dear descendents,

If climate scientists are correct then your lives will be very different to mine and so I wanted to write this letter to you to explain current thinking and actions regarding climate change.

I’ll start by explaining that as a child everything we could ever want was readily available – strawberries in February, not a problem! We could walk into any supermarket and pick up the same produce all year round… and it was all wrapped in plastic! Gone were the days of walking into a shop and buying however much of something you wanted, now you picked up the item you wanted packaged up into the amount the shops wanted to sell to you – it may sound odd to you now but to us, back then, it was just the way things were, no one really thought to question it. Single-use items were becoming very popular in general, from nappies to partyware, we suddenly preferred throwing things away rather than washing and reusing them… At this age we were being taught about climate change but, in all honesty, it felt like an intangible cloud of doom that was never going to affect me. Of course, back then, for every other scientist warning us of what was to come, there would be a climate denier.

Over time more and more hard data and evidence came in about climate change and people were becoming more willing to act. We began recycling and started congratulating ourselves on a job well done. We actually thought that recycling was going to be the solution to all our climate problems. It didn’t occur to us at first that recycling still requires a large amount of virgin resources, less than producing from scratch but still more than was sustainable. Despite everyone’s recycling efforts we were still generating more landfil waste than we could realistically deal with. Actually we were also producing more recycling waste than we could deal with so we were exporting it for other countries to deal with for us. We continued to be able to buy anything we wanted whenever we wanted, and a handful of people were starting to take their own bags into the supermarket with them instead of using the plastic bags provided at the checkouts.

In my early thirties I came across the statistic that the average woman will go through around 17,000 disposable sanitary products in her lifetime. That stat was too much for me. I did my research and invested in a menstrual cup to replace the tampons I would otherwise have purchased. From there I started looking at other ways in which I could eliminate waste from our lives. Shortly after this a new law came in meaning that supermarkets could no longer give away plastic bags, they would have to start charging a fee for them, and that did actually work to drastically reduce the number of bags used. It was just a drop in the ocean but it was a start. All the while climate data continued to roll in. Most people were now convinced of the problem but we’re unaware of just how urgently they needed to act. There were still a few hard-core deniers out there but in the face of so much evidence contrary to what they were saying, they were begining to be viewed as laughing stocks.

We were already starting to really feel the effects of climate change at home and around the world… the intangible cloud of doom was suddenly hanging over us.

Many Governments paid lip service to environmental concerns while consistently falling short of their carbon targets. Why are they so willing to gamble your future away? You don’t matter to them right now, they’re more concerned with their current electorate and securing their seats at the next election, anything beyond that is irrelevant. Plus, big corporations don’t want a change to the status quo, they’re making far too much money from the way things are, so they employ powerful lobbyists to sway the politicians towards inaction.

As I write this I’m doing my absolute best to make the necessary lifestyle changes, and convince others to join in, to ensure the security of your futures… but I fear it’s all come too late!

So far Paul and I have 1 child, Jay, and we’re determined to teach him (and any other children we may have) how to live sustainably – it’s something of a learning curve for us as it’s so different to how either of us grew up. We’re trying to grow some of our own fruit and veg as well and I hope these are skills that continue to be passed down and will hopefully serve you well.

The experts are currently telling us that globally we can expect to see greater levels of flooding, more severe droughts and more extreme weather events. More locally though we’re being warned of a lack of water within 25 years of me writing this letter to you. With that comes the concern that growers will be unable to produce enough food to effectively feed the population.

We’re also learning of the full extent of our disposable arrogance. We’re finding out that the nappies my mother put me in as a baby will not degrade for 500 years for example. We’re learning that the plastic tray our ready meals come in aren’t recyclable. Most alarmingly we’re learning that there have already been 5 mass extinction events throughout Earth’s history and we’re currently barrelling towards a 6th extinction event but this one is being caused by us.

Man-made objects are being found in the deepest depths of the ocean. Pieces of plastic are being found in the stomachs of almost every animal autopsied. Micro-plastic particles are so pervasive that they’re being found in the very air we’re breathing, on top of all the other pollutants I’ve grown up breathing in that is.

The water and food shortages are predicted within my lifetime so I can only imagine at how much of a struggle life must be for you.

For all the times I opted for a takeaway or ready meal instead of cooking at home; for every disposable cup I used because I couldn’t be bothered to wash up and for all the harsh wildlife destroying chemicals I poured down the drain thinking I was getting my house nice and clean – I’m truly sorry!

I’m sorry – such hollow words to echo through time! But that’s really all I can say. I’ve spent many years being wasteful and have now thoroughly changed my ways but I fear change hasn’t come quick enough to safeguard your future.

It is my greatest hope that we do in fact manage to act in time. However, many people even today truly believe that climate change is too big an issue for them to be able to do anything about. They are of course wrong. Everyone doing something makes the issue much smaller and easier to tackle on all fronts.

My biggest regret in life is the part I’ve played towards the destruction of our world.

I wish you all the very best.

With love,

Prisha Hill

So that’s my letter. Over to you: whom would your letter be addressed to –  town Mayor, historical figure, someone in the future, maybe even your past self? And of course, what will you say in your letter? I look forward to finding out, so get writing and let me know how you get on!

“I’m not racist, but…”

The other night I stood up in front of a room full of strangers to deliver a speech (thank you to Tim Huckle for letting me share the above photo). The event was for World Speech Day and each speaker was given just 5 minutes to leave their mark on the audience. As I only had 5 minutes I decided to not just speak about being zero waste but instead used the time as a call to action, asking the audience to join me in reducing their environmental impact. The theme of the event was ‘Ideas For World Citizens’ which I thought was rather apt as it coincided with the second round of youth climate strikes – children from 123 countries putting us adults to shame, it was truly beautiful!

I listened intently to the other speakers and while I felt moved on the night I find I’m still reflecting on everyone else’s words even now. I’ll provide a link to the video when it’s available but for now you’ll just have to take my word for how powerful each speakers’ words were – I know I should do the humble thing here and say how I wish I was even half as good as everyone else, and normally I totally would, but the following morning I awoke to find an email from one of the audience members explaining how my speech had moved him to change his shopping habits that very morning; so I’m celebrating the win!

A little while after arriving home from the event I logged in to my social feeds to check coverage of the strikes. On one of my feeds I was saddened to see someone I know reposting far-right rhetoric, and she’s not the only one… Recently I have seen more and more of my friends sharing posts that make me feel very nervous as a minority.

My Grandad came to England back in the 1950’s. It wasn’t easy for him. He would be spat at and called names as he walked down the street. He would line up outside a factory with all the other workers only for the foreman to walk straight up to him and tell him there was no work for him, they “only hire whites”. He was refused service in most shops and pubs that he tried to enter. It didn’t stop him from pursuing his dream of raising a family away from the farm he had grown up on though. Through sheer perseverance he managed to get permanent work and was able to provide his wife and 4 children with a comfortable life. As time went on he would be more accepted and would start hearing “I’m not racist, but…”

As a child my mother would occasionally tell me stories from her own past – the name-calling and things were a given, it was the other stories that really stuck in the mind: having to watch a neighbour being forced to walk barefoot over broken glass, having bricks thrown at her; a colleague deliberately tripping her up whilst pregnant. Throughout her adult life my mother would be told “I’m not racist but…”

As I was growing up, I still got called names, was regularly told to “go home” and was spat at – nothing had changed there, but things were definitely better than the 2 generations before me had experienced. Still, my entire life I’ve heard the words “I’m not racist, but…”

After 911 I knew strangers would start looking at me differently due to the colour of my skin; the fact I come from a Hindu family, not Muslim, was irrelevant to them, “I’m not racist, but…” continued to be the start to so many conversations that always made me feel uncomfortable. As I got older I discovered people REALLY take offence when you point out “if you have to begin a sentence with ‘I’m not racist, but…’ then you are in fact being racist”.

A little over a decade ago we started seeing the rise in popularity of the BNP (British National Party for those of you not familiar with that particular brand of fascism), whose unofficial party slogan seemed to be “we’re not racist, but…”; and so Paul and I came up with a plan – we were going to set up home in another country if things ever got too bad (read: racist) here in England. We had a vague search for potential countries, the cost of living, house prices, etc. but thankfully the BNP imploded before we ever felt the need to move.

Recently, I have been seeing more and more friends post and repost strong anti-immigration sentiments over all social media platforms. A lot of the reposts are actually hoaxes, or something that has been willfully misinterpreted to fit a far right agenda, but there’s something about the anti-immigration/anti-Islamic stance of the pieces that seems to resonate with more and more people.

I’ve seen people I know saying Shamima Begum (who ran away to join IS as a teenager) should never be allowed back into the country. I’ve seen people I know saying her entire family should be sent to join her. How long before I start seeing people I know saying all Muslims should leave the country? How long before before people I know say it’s all brown people who need to leave? How long before Paul and I need to review our previous plans? Of course, none of these people are racist, but…

In 1968 Enoch Powell made his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. In 1977 he reflected on his speech and insisted he was right and, shockingly, I agree with the first part:

…evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.

Later in the speech Enoch Powell went on to suggest that white men would one day be oppressed by black men – a fear borne of ignorance, as is all the far-right rhetoric I’m seeing being shared over and over again at the moment. The fact is most people don’t want to oppress or even take advantage of anyone else, they just want the same opportunities to go about their own lives.

There is a minority of people, from all walks of life, who believe so vehemently that they are superior to others, or that others are a threat to their way of life, that they are willing to kill for that belief – these people are not the majority, they are the mentally unstable minority, but they need validation for their beliefs. In order to gain that validation they appeal directly to, and feed into, peoples’ fears; they take nuggets of truth and twist it into plausible sounding hatred; and they spread all-out lies (knowing others are unlikely to fact-check). Eventually kind-hearted, intelligent, truly non-racist people start believing the rhetoric and before you know it they’re sharing posts saying we should deport our citizens for being related to a child who was groomed… would they also advocate the relatives of criminals serving prison time I wonder?

My whole life I’ve heard “I’m not racist, but…” and it’s time to stop! If you’re one of the apparently  growing number of people who think that immigrants are ruining your country then I challenge you to befriend one – help them learn the language and local customs instead of sitting back and berating them for daring to dream of a brighter future for their families. I can’t help but wonder what my Grandad may have achieved if someone, anyone, had helped him out when he first came here – rather than his life story being one of perseverance and eventual contentment, would it instead have been one of ambition and attainment? It’s time to realise that we are all people just trying to make our way in the world… a world that we are killing.

The youth climate strikes are showing us that the kids aren’t concerned about the caveman tribalism of their parents/grandparents. Children in 123 countries have united on a single common cause so why are the older generations having such a hard time getting on board?

The other day I was reminded that we have just one life, so lets not waste it on hatred; we have one planet so lets not destroy it. I want to stop hearing “I’m not racist, but…”, instead I want to hear “I’m doing my part for the environment by…”. We need to finally come together and cooperate if we want to save ourselves from the effects of global warming.

From attending a World Speech Day event to seeing the youth climate strikes and hearing about mass shootings, I have been made aware of the epic power our words can have, for good or for evil; with a word we can change the world!

Making Sense Of Climate Data

A few months ago I volunteered to give a talk on living zero waste. The talk will be in a couple of weeks on 15th March which is World Speech Day, Comic Relief and the next round of school climate strikes – so a pretty busy day all round!

The catch to this talk is that we each only have 5 minutes for our speeches, which is no time at all for such a broad topic. I have decided to concentrate my speech on the 5 R’s of zero waste but leading in to that I wanted to show a graph depicting climate change data to highlight why going zero waste is so important.

I knew printing out a giant bar chart would, for the most part, be met with a blank stare from most of the audience. I wanted a visual punch to help make the most of my 5 minutes (and hopefully get people to talk to me after) so I decided to get the knitting needles out and knit the data as a scarf. 

Thankfully, a quick Google search revealed I was not the first person to think of this and so I was able to adapt this pattern from Sheldon Fiber Designs.

After I had finished knitting I decided to crochet a border around the edge and it was whilst I was busy with my crochet hook that I hopped on a train to attend Climate Ambassador Training – which for the most part means I’m now an official MP botherer! During the training I whipped out my scarf and got a much bigger reaction than I had expected. Taking the time to knit the data was definitely the right choice!

So just what do the colours represent? White is where the global temperatures were average, blue represents cooler years (.1-.3 degrees variance) and well I was going to do red for warmer years but that would have required 6 different shades of red! So I started at yellow and worked my way up to maroon.

When I attended the Climate Ambassador Training I made sure I was wearing the green heart that I made as part of the Climate Coalition’s #showthelove campaign. I started by knitting a green heart and then I repurposed some beads from a necklace I was given years ago. Sadly, the necklace wasn’t quite “me” but I loved it all the same and couldn’t bear to part with it so I’m really pleased to have been able to reuse the beads in this way. How about you, how did your green heart turn out? If you haven’t done one then don’t worry, there’s still time to get involved. Just craft a green heart – you can knit, crochet, sew, cut out felt or how about a paper heart? Then you can decorate it if you want to. Once you’re done just upload a pic to the socials using #showthelove and don’t forget to tag me @PrishaHill so I can see your wonderful creations.

Being a Climate Ambassador is a huge honour and I already have several plans in place to spread the message. As well as giving talks I’ll be holding a market stall with a big spinning wheel, I’m getting all the WI ladies in the county to help me make a giant version of the global warming scarf but made from litter – we’ll then take the giant version with us to Westminster for the #masslobby on the 26th June 2019. I’m also planning a film screening with a discussion afterwards, further details to follow. Of course I’ll also be getting in touch with my local MP and councillors too.

Finally, I’m also going to be researching local residents to see whom I can nominate for a Green Heart Hero Award. If you have someone in mind then go ahead and nominate them – I’m sure they’ll be thrilled their efforts are being recognised!

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