Palm oil; why is it bad & how to live palm oil free

Palm Oil; why is it bad and how to live palm oil free

Living palm oil free is a huge and fantastic step towards living more ethically and sustainably. Grab a cuppa and get comfy because we're going to explore the problems with palm oil, look at where it's found, and how we can start living palm oil free and help save the planet in the process. Sound good?

What is palm oil?

This seems like a good place to start, doesn’t it? Palm oil is a vegetable oil which comes from the fruit of oil palm trees and is used in thousands of food and personal hygiene products. Palm kernel is the seed of the fruit of the palm oil, which can be found in livestock feed.

What’s the problem with palm oil? Why is it so bad?

Palm oil is grown across the world (we saw plantations in Morocco) but primarily in Malaysia and Indonesia. The map above is from Global Forest Watch and shows palm oil plantations throughout Malaysia and Indonesia - seriously recommend looking at the Global Forest Watch website if you have time.

So why is palm oil a problem?

Loss of habitat and species & animal abuse

Borneo, Sumatra, Malaysia, and Indonesia are home to majestic species such as tigers, elephants, orangutans, sun bears, rhinos, leopards and more. When their homes are cleared, they have nowhere to go, may end up being killed in order to clear the forest or during the clearing, or may end up in human-wildlife conflict situations. It’s estimated that a third of mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered as a result of palm production.

Another big issue is that animals will be smuggled out of the forests to be sold as pets or for their body parts.

All of these are so far from ideal and it breaks my heart that humanity is still destroying habitats to make money.

Burning forests and environmental issues

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to clear-cut a forest is to burn it. Not only could that kill anything living in it, but it releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. I don’t want to get into a full-on science lesson here (though I happily will - drop me a message), but trees store CO2. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming, so trees are pretty awesome for storing it for us. When we burn those trees, that CO2 gets released straight back into the atmosphere and is allowed to do naughty things.

We’re already kicking out enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without making things even worse. Burning forests = bad.

Human rights issues

As if this all wasn’t bad enough, palm oil is linked with human rights violations. Typically, the development of a palm oil plantation will be made out to be a good thing for the local people. “YAY! More jobs.” Until it turns out that sometimes they’re not actually jobs, it’s slavery and child labour.

Once you know that, you just really, really don't want to be supporting it. 

Alternative names for palm oil you might find on labels

What is palm oil labelled as?

Of course, the obvious thing you’re looking out for on labels is ‘palm oil’. The problem is that palm oil and its derivatives can be labelled as 200 different things! While it’s fairly easy to identify 'palm oil' and ‘palm kernel oil’, you probably wouldn’t recognise palm oil as any of these ingredients, for example:

  • Vegetable oil or vegetable fat (not always palm oil, but it might be if the label doesn’t say ‘palm oil free’.
  • Stearic acid
  • Sodium laureth sulphate/sulfate
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate/sulfate
  • Octyl palmitate
  • Palmitic acid
  • Palmityl alcohol
  • Palmolein
  • Sodium kernelate
  • Elaeis guineensis

WWF have a guide which lists the most common names for palm oil and its derivatives.

Quite frankly, it’d be a pain in the ass to try and remember all of those and would make shopping a lot harder and more time consuming. I would recommend screenshotting the part of the WWF guide and saving it in your phone, or looking for labels which explicitly say ‘no palm oil’ or ‘palm oil free’.

Where is palm oil found?

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in thousands of food, skincare and personal hygiene products. The WWF state that palm oil is present in approximately half of all packaged products sold in supermarkets. That sucks big time and makes avoiding it hard - it’s ok, though, we’re gonna get there and remember you don’t have to do it overnight. Baby steps are fine.

And it gets worse. Palm kernel can be used to feed to livestock. According to Compassion in World Farming, the EU imports half of the world’s supply of palm kernel meal. The UK is one of the biggest users of this, along with the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, and China. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a legal requirement for manufacturers to state whether or not meat has been fed on palm oil or not. If you eat meat and dairy, you can avoid this by buying meat and dairy that says ‘free range’, ‘pasture fed’ or ‘grass fed’ on the packaging.

This isn’t just an environmental issue because the use of palm kernel supports factory farming. Think about it, if livestock are kept outdoors they will eat what’s around them. Livestock kept indoors, on the other hand, need food to be taken to them.


Why do companies use palm oil?

Now you understand why palm oil is so bad for the environment, you’re probably wondering why companies still use it. Hmmm. I think you’re probably not going to be too surprised to hear that it’s because it’s cheap. Hands up if that surprised you. It’s also more productive than other oil producing plants as well - which is a double whammy for manufacturers.


What about ‘sustainable’ palm oil?

That’s a great question. Sustainable sounds good, right? If you look at the websites of companies using sustainable palm oil, it sounds amazing. It sounds like the solution we need to stop the deforestation of diverse rainforests. It sounds like the palm oil equivalent of rainbows and kittens. And maybe it is. But maybe it isn’t.

There are sustainable palm oil schemes, such as the RSPO - and you can see all the companies certified to their standards on their website. However, there are doubts about how effective and honest it is.

It’s entirely up to you whether or not you want to support sustainable palm oil - I, personally, am airing on the side of caution.

Ok, so you’re convinced; palm oil and its derivatives suck and you don’t want them to darken your kitchen or bathroom again. How do you do it? How do you start to live palm oil free?

Don’t worry, we’ve got this. Don’t try to do it all in one go because that might feel immensely overwhelming. Baby steps are cool. To help, you'll find a printable and pinnable PDF at the bottom which you can use as a handy reminder. Maybe stick it in your kitchen - and definitely make a sustainable living Pinterest board and stick it on there too. Ok, I'll quit with the shameless promotion.

Read labels

Before you can quit buying products with palm oil in, you need to know what it’s in. As we read earlier, it is possibly in a lot of the things you’re buying each time you go to the supermarket.

I recommend making a list of products, and perhaps even the brands, you’ve bought which contain palm oil. Don’t forget that if you eat dairy or milk, take a look at whether or not you’re buying grass-fed or pasture fed as standard.

Research palm oil free alternatives

Now you know where palm oil is sneaking into your house, you can begin to look for alternatives. There are alternatives out there, but it will take you time either researching it online or staring at labels in shops.

Start making changes as you use things up

I think going cold turkey while trying to stop buying palm oil would be hard if it is in a lot of things you buy. I recommend replacing things with palm oil free products as and when you use things up. Let’s face it - you’ve already purchased the product and paid for it, so there’s little point you throwing it out and wasting it.

Make your own

Since palm oil is found in processed food, you could try your hand at making your own. Instead of buying biscuits, cakes, or bread with palm oil in it - crack out a recipe book or head to Pinterest to find some recipes and give it a go! 


Some palm oil free companies

Here are a handful of companies I use that do not use ANY palm oil in any of their range. If you know of any other companies and want me to add them to the list - drop me a comment.

  • Meridian: nut butters, cooking sauces, jams & snacks
  • Pic’s peanut butter: yet more nut butters because I eat a lot of peanut butter
  • Sweet freedom: they make some pretty tasty chocolate sauce
  • Oatly: oat ‘milk’; you could argue this is a slightly grey one because they were using palm oil but are phasing it out. It’s certainly not in their standard oat milks - their website is very transparent, so I recommend looking.
  • Bloomtown: the UK’s first certified palm oil free company, selling skincare products
  • Rocky Mountain Soap Co: excellent sunscreen, soaps, skincare

Heh, that’s a pretty darn short list. Once I started thinking about the products I regularly used, I realised palm oil is still in some products I use, and while it might not be in some other products I use, the brand uses palm oil in other products. Ugh. What a minefield. This is why I don’t recommend trying to swap everything overnight.

If you want an easy place to see palm oil free companies in the UK, Palm Oil Free is a really useful website. I don’t think every company that is palm oil free is actually on there, though.


Further reading

If you want to find out more about palm oil, the damage it causes the environment and the beasties which live in it, and how to avoid it, I found these resources super useful:


Where do you stand on using palm oil?

If you're going palm oil free, I want to hear one product you love that contains palm oil that you're switching up. For me, it's Oreos. I love them but I think I need to learn to make my own.

Checklist for living palm oil free


How to recycle properly

How to recycle properly

One of the suggestions I received in my reader survey was a post about how to recycle properly; your wish is my command!

For me, recycling is like riding a bike. I have some vague memories of my Mum teaching me how to recycle when I was a kid, and it’s something I’ve done since then. Ok, so that’s not like riding a bike because I haven’t actually ridden a bike in….a very, very long time.

I’ve never known anything different and tend to think everyone else knows how to recycle, too. I recently learned that one of my oldest friends had to be given a recycling masterclass by another friend – I can’t believe I hadn’t lectured her already! I’m actually a little saddened by that missed opportunity. 

If there’s ever anything I talk about and don’t explain, please ask me in the comments, email me, or get in touch on social media. I am a sustainable living fangirl and would be more than happy to bombard you with information.

Recycling can feel daunting when you start out because trying to remember what can and can’t go in specific boxes and bins can easily get confusing. I promise, it will become second nature in no time at all and you will soon be telling off your family and friends for putting something recyclable in the general waste bin. Yep, I’m sorry, you’re gonna become known as “that person”, or “Rosie vs. the world”. It’s kinda fun, but it doesn’t come with a cape – it should, though.


Why do we recycle?

Why don’t we all just put everything in one bin? We recycle to help things be reused, to reduce the amount of non-renewable resources (like oil, natural gas, metals, etc) we’re taking from the planet, to reduce our impact on the environment, to get the most out of materials, and to make our lifestyles more sustainable.

All of that helps us to work towards a more circular economy – I am planning to write a blog post about what this is, but for now, WRAP has a really short and sweet guide on circular economies and the benefits

It all boils down to us putting as little as possible in our general waste bin. It’s actually quite a fun challenge to have with yourself – that sounds really sad, but you will feel joy for seeing a slightly emptier general waste bin. It’s the small things in life. 


Check your council / local government website

The best thing you can do is look at your local council website. In the UK, our local councils provide us with all the information we need about what each bin/box is for, what can and can’t go in it, and when it’s collected.

I can’t speak for every single country on the planet, but I imagine your local council or government should provide you with that information online, or perhaps in a leaflet you could request.

Because of the differences in the UK alone (let alone in other countries) there is no point me writing a blog post saying “you can put this type of waste in this bin” because we have different coloured recycling bins in different councils in the UK (DON’T ASK, IT MAKES NO SENSE), and some councils won’t take things in some bins that others will take. Again, IT MAKES NO SENSE!

The easiest thing for you to do is head over to your council website. print pages out telling you what goes in what bin, and stick them near your bins so you can see it easily.

It’s also really handy if you’ve been recycling for years (especially if you move into new council areas or a new country) to have a little refresher every now and then. For years, I thought you could put wet cat food pouches in the recycling bin because it’s made from metal – turns out you can’t. Oops. It’s easy to develop those kinds of associations about a type of material, so refresh your memory if it’s been a while since you looked at the lists. And if you’re not sure about an item, pull the website up quickly and check.


Wash it out

I would like to apologise for all the tins and jars I threw in the recycling bin without washing out. I’m very sorry; I was lazy, there really is no other excuse for it.

Leftover food in your recycling can contaminate other items and make it unrecyclable. For example, if you throw out an empty tin of soup and a bit of leftover soup leaks onto paper or cardboard, that paper or cardboard may no longer be recyclable.

Get into the habit of washing tins and jars out as soon as you’re finished with them, instead of throwing them straight into the bin.

Not only does this mean you are preventing contamination, but it stops your bin being really gross. And let’s be honest, the less time we have to spend cleaning out bins the better.


Separate those lids

If, like us, you have a glass bottle and glass jar bin, make sure you remove the lids and put them in the right recycling bin.

The same goes for things like ready meals or meats; remove the film because the film probably isn’t recyclable.

(Don’t worry for you eagle-eyed readers, I did spot and remove the lid on one of the glass bottles in this photo ;).) 


Read the packaging

I really wish this wasn’t even something I have to talk about, but I do. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how angry I’m about to get about “not currently recycled” packaging.

It is easy to assume that all plastic is recyclable. I did it up until a couple of years ago; anything plastic I put straight in our recycling box, because it’s plastic and you can recycle plastic, right?

Turns out, no. Not all plastic is recyclable and unfortunately, a large amount of plastic packaging in the UK (I can’t speak for elsewhere) bears the awful label “not currently recycled”.

Not only do I encourage you to look at packaging as you’re stood in your kitchen about to throw something away; I encourage you to begin reading packaging in supermarkets and trying to buy less “not currently recycled” packaging if you can. I fully understand that’s not always possible, and let’s move off this topic before I start ranting about Tesco and their organic oats again. 

I also fully encourage you to angrily tweet companies asking what their wishy washy “not currently recycled” rubbish is about, and tag the Not Currently Recycled Twitter account, also.


What do I do with things I can’t recycle at home?

You can’t recycle everything at the kerbside, and this is where you’ll have to do some research.

For example, I can’t put clothes or textiles in my recycling bin. Instead, I can donate things that are still usable to local charities, or in clothing/textile bins at supermarkets or refuse centres. Batteries are not recyclable kerbside, but again you can recycle them at refuse centres.

In the UK, the Recycle Now and Recycle For Scotland websites are incredibly helpful. Again, your council website will probably also tell you where to recycle things you can’t put in your normal bins.


Before we go and you start wielding your new recycling powers I want to say one more thing.

There is a lot of pressure put on you and me (as consumers) to “do more”. We can only buy what manufacturers and shops make available to us, and sometimes that means buying something in non-recyclable packaging. Don’t feel bad about that; instead, ask companies why they’re making these choices and ask them to do better. And if they won’t do better, vote with your money.

For example, I’m not buying Quorn sausages until they make their packaging recyclable – instead, Linda McCartney has my money. (We’ll ignore the fact I can’t even eat Quorn snosages now because I’m vegan and they aren’t – but you catch my drift.) In fact, I’m not buying a thing Quorn sell until they fix their packaging because I have other choices in better packaging.

So far in 2018, I have seen a lot more people calling for better packaging options and that warms my soul like a nice toasty campfire. This is what we need more of. We need to hold companies accountable, ask for change, and vote with our money.

If you have any more questions about how to recycle, or want me to cover another topic, please let me know and I’ll get right on it.





Sustainable food shopping: how to shop less wastefully & use less plastic

Sustainable food shopping; how to reduce your food miles, waste less food, and take less plastic packaging home

One of the hardest things about sustainable living is food shopping, so today we’re going to talk about sustainable food shopping and how we can reduce food miles, and the amount of plastic packaging we take home.

I’m so happy to see so many people aiming to live more sustainably and to buy things with less plastic packaging in 2018. It truly stokes the fire in my soul. If you’re a complete beginner to sustainable living, you might find this handy post about how to start living more sustainably useful.

Quick note before we start; I live in the UK, so some of these things might seem odd if you’re from the US or Canada, where bulk buying is so much more common. Hopefully, there are at least a couple of tips you can take away no matter where you’re living.

A couple of years ago, the UK government introduced a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags to encourage people to use reusable bags, or learn to juggle. The charge worked pretty well because us Brits hate paying 5p for things and loved the challenge of juggling a week’s worth of shopping down the carpark because we forgot our bags for life.

The scheme has been pretty successful, and in the first few months, 6 billion fewer plastic bags were used in comparison to before the scheme was introduced. The irony is that we take our reusable bags and stuff them with delicious food wrapped in single-use crappy plastic. I would argue that as the definition of irony. How supermarkets and the government failed to see and act on that one that is beyond me. 

So, what can we do to reduce the amount of packaging, waste, and food miles when we shop? 


Get some produce bags

My sister got me produce bags for Christmas thinking it was a joke gift because of how much I moan about plastic packaging, but they are so not joke gifts. They are actually the most useful Christmas gift I received this year, and I love them.

Produce bags are mesh/fabric bags that replace those horrible single-use plastic bags in the fruit and veg section. You simply put your loose veg in them and carry on with your shopping. It is that easy.

I am not aware of a high street store, or even a supermarket (seems like a missed opportunity), that you can buy them from. You can get them online very easily though; a swift Google will throw up loads of suggestions (and I’ve even done that for you). Make sure you get a few in different sizes to cover everything you might buy. I think these are the ones my sister got me; there are 12 in total in three different sizes, so I’m well covered.


Support local growers

If you can get to a local farmers market or have a greengrocer in town who sells local produce, support the crap out of them. I know it’s not always possible though, so don’t stress; for me, living more sustainably is about us all doing the best we can.

By buying locally as much as possible, you’re supporting your local economy and reducing your food miles. Food miles are how far your food has been transported to you. The further food travels, the more carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (NOx), and particulate matter are given out as a result of transport, and all of these things contribute to global warming and air pollution that harms our health.


Plan to avoid over purchasing

Knowing how much food you’re going to use between shops is so helpful because it stops you buying things that will go to waste, which saves you money. I highly recommend making a meal plan (even a rough idea of what kind of thing you might eat throughout the week) and then figuring out how much you need to buy. This can stop you getting caught up by 3 for 2 or BOGOF offers if you know it won’t get used.

My Nan goes to the shop pretty much every day and I remember being slightly horrified by the amount of salad and veg that was thrown away because she would keep buying too much. She seemed to think that if she kept buying it, it would get eaten but we couldn’t eat it fast enough. I think my Mum has reigned her in a little bit now, thankfully.

If you’re struggling to understand or track how much food you’re throwing away, separate food waste from your general waste for a couple of weeks and that should give you a good idea. If you can, compost any food waste, or make sure it goes in your food waste bin if you have one.


Learn to look at labels

For me, checking labels when I’m food shopping is second nature now. It is very difficult to do a food shop that is entirely plastic packaging free so get used to figuring out what you can and can’t recycle. You will be surprised by how much you can’t recycle.

The organic oats I buy (because the supermarket doesn’t sell any other organic oats) come in non-recyclable packaging. I mean, that seems like a bit of a slap in the face to me, don’t you think? These oats have been lovingly grown without any toxins to be healthier for the soil, the environment, and the eater, and then you wrap them in something that cannot be recycled? What? Why? I don’t want you to save the soil, the air, me, but kill sea creatures. Why would you even think I would want that? WHAT’S WRONG WITH PAPER?! Someone has to get angry about these things, and it’s always me.

It’s inevitable you will have to buy things in plastic so make sure you’re buying recyclable plastic as much as you can. It’s not the solution but it’s boatloads better than non-recyclable.


Research bulk options in your area

There aren’t a huge number of places you can buy bulk food, like oats, flour, coffee, etc in the UK. I know there are a few Whole Foods in London, Edinburgh has Real Foods, and there are probably a few places with bulk food options scattered around the country.

If you don’t know what that is, it essentially means you walk into a place and they have huge bins or containers of things. You take your own jar, box, or bag, load them up and then pay by weight. They seem like an amazing idea, and I was so excited when I saw bog standard grocery stores in Canada with bulk oats and coffee. Hopefully, they will become more popular in the UK.

But, what if you don’t live near somewhere that has a bulk option? I have seen zero waste bloggers recommend buying as big a package of that thing as you can as it often works out cheaper and uses less packaging than buying smaller packages. However, huge packages of things aren’t that common in the UK either, so it’s a difficult one. All you can do is your best here.


Buy seasonal produce

Seasonal produce is a huge work in progress for me because I struggle to remember and keep on top of what’s seasonal. We’re so used to walking into a shop and buying and eating whatever we want all year round that we don’t even think about how far something travelled to us. As we mentioned further up, the further food travels, the more pollutants are given off, so we want to keep those miles as low as possible.

This can seem quite limiting, especially if you love avocados as much as me. I’m not saying restrict yourself to only what’s in season in your country. When you feel restricted, living sustainably becomes hard and unenjoyable and it’s then that you give up.

It’s about striking a balance and compromise. So, enjoy something exotic in your shopping basket but try to make more and more of your shop seasonal.

You should be able to easily find out what’s seasonal to the country you live by searching for it. Since we’re in January and I read this yesterday, here’s Rhyme & Ribbons guide to seasonal eating in the UK in January. I believe her monthly newsletter usually contains a list of seasonal food and recipes (I’ve only just signed up myself) so that sounds like a really easy way to keep on top of it.

One of the ways I’ve been trying to make this really interesting for myself is to look at what’s seasonal and find new recipes. I really, really want to make artichoke soup because I had some at work a few weeks ago and it was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.


Hold shops accountable

I’m pretty sure I bang on about this in every single blog post about living more sustainably, but it’s true. If there’s something you’re not happy with about where you shop, let them know.

Supermarkets and food producers/manufacturers are beginning to come under more pressure from us to package things in a more sensible and sustainable way, so it is working. I mean, Tesco have stopped responding to me now but I’m hoping that’s because they’re so busy listening to me…I live in hope. And Tesco live in hope I don’t moan at them on Twitter again.


Grow your own

I’m pretty sure most of us would love to have the space to live off the land and grown all our own produce. Unfortunately, that isn’t really possible for the majority of us, but growing a couple of things can make all the difference.

If you don’t have a garden, why not grow your own herbs? If you’ve got a garden with space, do a little research and give growing something a go. When I was a kid, my Dad used to grow potatoes and it was so exciting seeing them being dug up and then turned into Sunday dinner.


If you have any tips for shopping less wastefully and buying less food wrapped in plastic, let us all know in the comments. And, as always, if I’ve mentioned something in passing without explaining it, pull me up on it and I’ll explain it and do better next time!


Let’s share our 2018 sustainable living goals

Sustainable living 2018 goals

I don't usually post yearly goals, but when I was writing out my sustainable living goals for 2018 I realised there's an opportunity for us to help each other here.

Yesterday, I posted seven tips to begin living more sustainably and I thought sharing our sustainable living goals would be a perfect way to set our intentions. I have found blogs and online friends so helpful for guiding me into a more sustainable lifestyle and I think we've got a good opportunity here to support each other. AND, we can collectively annoy supermarkets and brands until they put the planet before profit and make our lives a little easier. Sound good? Awesome.

For me, the key is to set SMART goals (if you need help with that, here's a handy guide). I just can't write down something vague because I try to shake it off or interpret it a different way if I'm feeling lazy. If I know what I want to do and how to achieve it, I'm pretty good at doing it.


Reduce food waste to peelings

Edinburgh have food waste bins, something we've never had before, so it was interesting to start separating that out. I don't think we do too bad a job in general, but occasionally we forget about leftovers and I'm pretty bad for letting fruit go gross.

This year, I want our food waste caddy to only contain peelings, the odd tea bag if a tea drinker visits, and cat food - because the cat much prefers it when Daz feeds him and eats less when I feed him the exact same food. 


Buy ethical and sustainable shoes

You know what? I was pretty afraid to include this one because I'm fairly certain I will fail at it at least once this year. Then I realised, the point isn't to perfectly achieve your goals from the outset; it's to try and achieve something new.

Ethical and sustainable shoes are expensive (and I get why). In general, I don't buy shoes often at all. In fact, I think the only shoes I bought in 2017 were for work. I work in a restaurant so my shoes take a battering and the thought of spending a lot of money on something that I worry will wear out quickly makes my stomach knot a little. If anyone has recommendations for black, comfy, ethically and sustainable made shoes that won't wear out, I need to hear them.


Clothes; use it or lose it

My wardrobe is a lot smaller than it used to be; ask my Mum. I did a good job of minimising my wardrobe in 2017, though there are a handful of things I want to make an effort to wear more, or donate.

Less choice in my wardrobe is fine by me. To be honest, I'm fed up of putting all my clothes away. Less clothes = less clothes to put away = happy me.


Quit buying anything in non-recyclable plastic packaging

Recycling is not the magic answer to plastic pollution, but buying non-recyclable packaging directly contributes to the problem. On the face of it, this seems pretty easy, but it's not. The bread we like (and the majority of bread, actually) is in non-recyclable film - great, thanks, nothing says good morning like 'enjoy your toast that's contributing to the destruction of the planet.'

It's definitely going to take some time to get this one nailed.


Buy loose fruit and veg

Again, this seems like a really easy thing to do, and it should be. Until your supermarket tries to make it impossible for you. My local supermarket decided to do away with paper mushroom bags and replace them with those crappy plastic ones. And the packaged ones have non-recyclable film. I need to get some produce bags and start shopping for produce somewhere else. 


Those are my five sustainable living goals for 2018. There will definitely be other things I'll achieve this year in terms of living a more sustainable life, but I think these are the bigger goals that will take more time achieve 100%. Oh man, if this blog post was a drinking game every time I said 'sustainable living' in that post, we'd have been smashed before we made it to the end. 

Tell me about your sustainable living goals, and let's help each other out. We got this; let's make David Attenborough proud. 




How to start living more sustainably

7 tips for sustainable living; how to start living more sustainably

The New Year is almost upon us and we're starting to consider what we want to kick ass at in 2018; fancy living more sustainably? Awesome. Then I've got a few super easy tips here to arm you with before 2018 kicks off.


Ok, so I think I know why you're all here; Blue Planet 2 made you despair at the choices humans have made. Am I right?


This time last year I decided to start living more sustainably and ethically and boy is it a rollercoaster and a whole load of shouting "WHY ARE YOU MAKING THIS SO HARD FOR ME?!" in the middle of your supermarket. Trying to live sustainably can feel very overwhelming, which is why I started blogging about it and sharing my frustrations and difficulties. We live in a world of convenience and convenience is not very eco-friendly at all.


In fact, our convenience culture is not very convenient because it'll be damn inconvenient when:

  • Sea levels rise and flood islands, cities and towns causing massive numbers of climate refugees
  • Thousands of species become extinct
  • The oceans are dead
  • We can't grow any food in our soil
  • We're drowning in plastic and all of our mistakes

That got dark quickly, didn't it? Sorry. Don't mean to bring you down over the festive period; MERRY CHRISTMAS, THE PLANET IS SCREWED - that wasn't what I wanted but, I mean, it's true.


Before we get into it, I want to point out that the idea isn't to be perfect from the get-go. And maybe it isn't the point at all. I've been at this for a year now and I'm far from perfect but my efforts are valid. For me, the point is to make the best with your life and your circumstances. You're not gonna see any shaming around here because you forgot your drinks bottle and needed a drink.


Ok, so, grab a cuppa because over the course of this blog post we're going to talk about:

  • What sustainable living is?
  • Why would you want to live more sustainably?
  • Cover a few seriously easy ways you can start living more sustainably without spending a fortune


What is sustainable living?

Sustainable living is about reducing your impact on the Earth and its resources. The definition of sustainable is maintaining something at a certain rate. So it means, we're not taking out more than we're putting back in or that can repopulate/regrow over a certain period of time. For me, sustainable living covers more than that, it is also about protecting our planet and it's ecosystems by keeping them healthy and sustaining THAT. 


We live in a world of capitalism, consumerism, and convenience; the three horsemen of the apocalypse if you will. Talk to your grandparents and you'll soon discover that life just 60 years ago was very different. Since then, we have created a whole load of, frankly, unnecessary crap and waste all in the name of convenience. I'm not ok with it; and, since you're here, I guess you're not either.


Why would you want to live more sustainably?

What brought you here? What made you decide to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Maybe it was one reason, maybe it was a few reasons:

  • Reducing the amount of waste you produce - we produce a lot of unnecessary waste which impacts the environment in a number of ways. I go into this in more detail in 8 reasons to produce less waste.
  • We're sick of crying while watching Blue Planet - the devastating impacts plastic pollution has on the environment are, well, devastating.
  • Saving money - I have definitely found that since living more sustainably my shopping habits have changed, which have saved me money


How can I start living more sustainably?

This will not be a complete guide to how to live more sustainably. By the end of this blog post you'll be armed with a few simple changes you can make to start living more sustainably.


I don't want to throw everything at you right now - because I find that kind of paralyses me. When I have a few things I can do, I feel empowered and like I can do it and make a positive change right now. I will be going into more depth in future posts, you can check out my sustainable and ethical living section, and ask me anything you want in the comments or Twitter.


1. Stop. Pay attention to your shopping habits and what's in your house

This is absolutely the first step to living more sustainably. Before you can start making a change, you need to know what you want to be more sustainable than

Take a look through your waste and recycling bins;

  • Are you throwing away a lot of non-recyclable plastic?
  • Why? What products are packaged in non-recyclables?
  • Can you get the same product packaging-free, or in recyclable plastic? (Arguably, plastic recycling isn't super great but it's better than non-recycled plastic, and let's take this one step at a time because I haven't got zero plastic down either.) I wrote a handy blog post here about why plastic is so bad if you want some more info on it.
  • Are you throwing a lot of food away? I guess it's not so bad if you have a food waste scheme where that food is turned into energy but it's a waste of your money all the same.

Are your wardrobes full of clothes you don't wear? Do you tend to buy things, wear them once and never again? Why? Is it the style? The quality? Did you pick it up because it was a good deal?

Take a look around your whole house and assess why you purchased the things you did.

This is something that's great to keep in mind every time you go shopping for anything:

  • Why am I buying this?
  • What purpose does the object need to fulfil?
  • Will it fulfil that purpose?

2. Make some goals

Ok, so now we have an idea about how we're buying, what we're throwing away, and any clutter in our house, we can set some goals.


Jot down a couple of goals; make sure they're specific and measurable. Here are a couple of examples:

  • I don't want to buy any clothes this month. Instead, I'm going to clear out my closet and find new ways to wear what I already have.
  • I want to reduce the amount of food waste I'm producing by half. Instead, I'm going to make an effort to eat/freeze leftovers, or learn to only cook what I will eat in that day/meal.
  • I am going to stop buying fruit and vegetables in non-recyclable packaging. Instead, I'm going to only buy loose produce.


Write them down somewhere you're going to see them regularly and let's get cracking.

3. Have a clear out

You may not need to do this; it really depends on what your goals are, though it never hurts to have a good clear out. I mean, it does at the time when you're surrounded by a pile of things and wondering why you started, but it feels so good afterwards. 

If your wardrobe is overflowing, you have loads of CDs/DVDs/games you don't use, if you have a cupboard or drawer 'of doom', or are concerned there might be a monster living under your bed, get clearing out. 

One of the benefits of living more sustainably for me is a slow transition into only having things in my house that provide us with some kind of benefit/that we use. I think that if you're able to have a tidy out and get rid of things that represent your old, more wasteful, way of living it helps keep you on track. Plus, who doesn't like slightly emptier cupboards, wardrobes, drawers, and shelves?

Take anything you no longer need that's in good condition to local charity shops, offer them to your friends and family, or stick 'em on eBay. But do it now. Do not put them in a pile to deal with later. 

4. Cut out those single-use items

One of the biggest and easiest ways we can start living more sustainably is to stop using single-use items. I'm talking about; plastic straws, napkins, plastic cutlery, coffee cups, and disposable razors to name a few things.

You will be glad to know there are reusable and long-lasting versions of all of those things:

  • Straws = stainless steel straws, bamboo straws, glass straws
  • Paper napkins = cloth napkins
  • Plastic cutlery = pop a set of cutlery out your kitchen in your bag, or there's bamboo cutlery
  • Coffee cups = not all takeaway coffee cups are recyclable but that's not a problem if you have a reusable mug
  • Disposable razors = these tacky looking things can be replaced with safety razors, or good quality, long-lasting electric razors. I've just got round to getting a safety razor (a super extra rose gold one, idc, it's pretty) and they're just as easy to use as a disposable one, you just need to be a tad more careful.
  • Sanitary products = yes, you can get reusable tampons and towels AND menstrual cups. It's not as gross as you think either, so you can find something that works for you.
  • Toothbrushes = every toothbrush ever created still exists in landfill, that shit has not broken down. Get yourself a bamboo toothbrush instead.


5. Start buying loose fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables wrapped in non-recyclable packaging are by far one of my biggest frustrations. It is so unnecessary and it seriously gets on my nerves that loose peppers are more expensive than peppers wrapped in plastic packaging; wtf is that about?

Ok, so what do you do put your loose fruit and vegetables in then?

  • Some items can be put straight into your trolley/basket/bag without packaging, like bananas
  • Produce bags; got any cloth bags at home you could use? Or you could turn old t-shirts into produce bags? Or buy some produce bags online.
  • Or you could do what I do sometimes and use a load of those paper mushroom bags for everything…
  • Complain to your supermarket about them selling things in non-recyclables - please, because I think Tesco are getting sick of me moaning at them, so if we all do it, they might give in


6. Get angry, in a polite way

Let's channel the frustration we feel when we're trying to buy something in a more sustainable way but we can only get it in 'not currently recyclable' packaging. (That, by the way, is the biggest cop-out ever - not currently? So when are you going to use recyclable packaging and quit being non-committal?)

Begin emailing or writing to companies and asking them about their plans for recyclable packaging, or something else they're doing which isn't sustainable. Such as why your local Tesco has replaced paper mushroom bags with plastic ones? WHY TESCO, WHY? I know it looks like I hate Tesco sometimes but it's where I shop all the time and yeah, sometimes they make hateful decisions.

If anyone wants to see a sample/draft email or message to send, let me know and I'll put one up. 


7. Educate yourself

One of the best things I have done this year is to learn more about how harmful our current culture is. You can never know enough and I'm constantly learning about things that reinforce my enthusiasm to live more sustainably even though it can be hard sometimes.

A few things I found really insightful:

  • Chasing Ice
  • Chasing Coral - this is utterly heartbreaking, especially towards the end
  • Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body, and Ultimately Save the World - Josh Tickell - this is a seriously fascinating read about soil and agriculture. I know that probably sounds boring to most people but I'm a soil geek; still, I definitely think it's something people should know about. 
  • Feral - George Monbiot
  • I uhmed & ahed about whether or not to include Cowspiracy. It's very popular and it is definitely very shocking if you don't know anything about the environmental damage agriculture causes but I'm aware some of the studies quoted weren't quite right. This is discussed in Kiss The Ground and I think that's perhaps a more unbiased approach. Nevertheless, I think Cowspiracy is an important watch. 
  • The True Cost - this looks at the human and environmental impacts of the majority of clothes we wear 
  • Blood & Earth by Kevin Bales - Blood & Earth is one of the hardest books I've ever read. Did you know that slavery and environmental destruction often go hand in hand? Like True Cost, it documents the environmental and human impacts of modern life and looks at things like where our food comes from, minerals to make smartphones and laptops & more. 
  • IPCC summary - If you're interested in the science and figures, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) summary for policymakers is perhaps the best place to start. I have used it loads on my masters course already because this summary has all the key bits in one place. 

If anyone has any more recommendations for books, films, or documentaries, leave them below.


Please leave me a comment below with the tips you're going to try out. If you have any questions, or want me to cover a specific topic, let me know and your wish is my command.


How to have a less wasteful Christmas

How to have a less wasteful Christmas

I promise, this is not a Christmas guide (we're already suffocating in them, y'all don't need another one); this is a handy little guide to help you have a less wasteful Christmas.


Last week, we spoke about why you would want to reduce the amount of waste you send to landfill and some of the ways you can benefit from it. Problem is, we're probably coming up to the most wasteful time of year; Christmas. From piles of wrapping paper that dwarf Mount Doom, Christmas cards flying through your letterbox like you're Harry Potter, secret Santa gifts from someone who barely knows your name, and not having enough cups for your family, your rubbish situation can get out of control quickly.


Let's look at a few ways we can have a less wasteful Christmas - I suspect it might also be a teeny bit less stressful too, but I'll leave that up to you to decide.


Thoughtful gifts & experiences

Some people dread trying to buy gifts while others are pros at picking out something to be cherished without the slightest hint. Let's be real for a sec, we all know our family will buy each other gifts, even though we all say "oh, I don't want anything." Or your Mum says "a tidy house" for the 12th year in a row.


We know we're all going to buy each other gifts, so let's be helpful and talk about things we'd actually use or like. If you can't find a thing to get a family member or friend, give experiences; take them out for food, go to the cinema, or take them to see their favourite band or show.


If you want to keep the element of surprise, give each other a list and pick one thing from it. This is what me and my vinyl-loving friend do - we give each other a list of a few albums we'd like, and we pick one off the list. Buying people gifts they need or want is a great way to reduce waste over Christmas and 'clutter' people feel they have to keep. If you do find yourself with gifts you won't use, donate them to local charities.


Support local businesses

Where you can, shop locally to support local businesses, put money back into your local economy, reduce your environmental footprint, and reduce packaging. If you do order online, consider adding a "please use non-plastic packaging where possible" note to your order.


Christmas tree

Make sure everyone understands you're trying to have a less wasteful Christmas

Being British, this is likely to be an awkward conversation unless someone else brings it up for you. Ah, I don't even know how this country developed, let alone conquered places and built and empire - we hate asking for anything or being a mild inconvenience.

As awkward as you might feel (or not if you're from anywhere else on the planet), bring the topic up with your friends and family. Explain you're trying to have a less wasteful Christmas and why it's important to you. No one is going to be a dick about having less rubbish that isn't going to be collected for another two weeks because of how the bank holidays fall. Who knows, you might even inspire your friends and family to give it a bash too. 


Shop ethically and sustainably

For a lot of people, Christmas is probably the most expensive time of the year, and ethical and sustainable items are often more expensive than their non-ethical counterparts. BUT, it doesn't mean your gifts have to break the bank at all.

  • Look for cruelty-free, toxin-free skincare and makeup - some of my favourite skincare brands are Lani and Antipodes
  • Instead of buying multiple gifts, by one gift that will stand the test of time - buy one snuggly, ethically made jumper instead of more smaller gifts 
  • How about a cozy-looking pair of handknit vegan socks? Tell me you don't want to wear them, I dare ya.
  • Dad, brother, or boyfriend need a new wallet? Etsy is your friend.
  • Make something - why not challenge your family and friends to make all your gifts; socks, scarves, jams, cake, Skittles vodka, candles…whatever. Get your Pinterest on and become a crafting wizard.


Rethink wrapping paper

I dread to think how much wrapping paper we throw away every year that can't be recycled. It can be really tricky to figure out whether or not you can actually recycle your wrapping paper. I used to think all wrapping paper was recyclable - turns out it's not and even Recycle Now can't give you a definitive answer. If you want to use wrapping paper, buy recycled paper that can also be recycled.

If not, how about:

  • Using newspaper
  • Using gift bags that can be reused
  • Cloth wraps
  • Not bothering - I love this idea because my wrapping skills are B- on a good day (and that's just wrapping cubes or oblongs) and I get tangled up in sellotape


Ask everyone to bring a cup/cutlery

Fifteen people turning up on Christmas Eve? Don't buy paper cups or plastic cutlery; ask your family and friends to bring their own. It's not weird. Unless you're hosting dinner parties all the time, there's no need for you to buy more glasses or plates that you'll have to sift through all the time. And you sure as hell are not buying plastic cutlery on my watch. I'm sorry, but you signed up for this kinda ass-kicking when you read this blog.

Friends Joey fork GIF


We do not use plastic cutlery in this house blog community. We get everyone to channel their inner Joey Tribbiani and carry cutlery in their coat pockets. Joey gets it. 


Eat those leftovers

Make sure you chomp up those leftovers and send your favourite people away with doggy bags for when they can finally look at food again - usually around 4 pm on Boxing Day.


Dispose of your tree responsibly

I can't figure out how I feel about Christmas trees. Daz and I have an artificial one; it's plastic, and I'm sure there are all kinds of things in it that I'd rather not know about. On the other hand, the thought of chopping down a tree makes my stomach knot. Though, if it gets turned into woodchip or used as a biofuel afterwards, it's good for the ol' carbon sink...
Friends - Phoebe and the Christmas Tree Chipper

If you have a real Christmas tree, check out your local council website to find out if they are collecting Christmas trees kerbside, or if there's somewhere you can take your tree.


Turns out, it's not as hard as you think to have a less wasteful Christmas. I mean, we get to save the planet a little, find ourselves surrounded by a small hill of wrapping paper instead of a mountain, and you're less likely to find yourself grumbling in the cold on Boxing Day night that the bin is too full and the wrapping paper is blowing around. Who doesn't enjoy the thought of that? 


8 reasons why you should produce less rubbish

8 reasons why you should produce less rubbish and how you and the planet can benefit

Since the start of 2017, I’ve been on a mission to reduce the amount of waste we send to the tip/landfill. It’s not quite zero waste (which is about producing no waste whatsoever, including recycling), but it’s an important step in the right direction.

One of the things I really want to do with Girl In Awe is help you figure out how to live a more conscious, eco-friendly, and ethical lifestyle, if that’s your jam. Starting with the basics.

When I write a blog post, I sometimes forget that not everyone has read exactly what I’ve read, or even knows what the hell I’m on about. When I began working with Jasmin as my blog coach, she suggested I take some things back to absolute basics in case you lovely folk were completely beginners to some of my wafflings. I’m sorry if I bamboozled you; I kinda turn into an over-excitable puppy sometimes. I’m gonna make it up to you though. We’re gonna smash sustainable and eco-living together. Are you ready for it...? (Yeahhhh, you got the T-Swift reference.)

Today’s topic, is waste reduction and how you can benefit from it/why you should do it. Together, we’re gonna reduce the amount of crap in our general waste bins that gets send to landfill, and here’s why.


1. No one likes pollution

How much do you love the delicious smell coming from a landfill site when it’s mildly warm? It’s delicious, isn’t it? I used to live in a town that had a tip and my dog, you could smell it all over town on a mildly warm day. And on one of those hot, humid British summer days, you could taste it.

That smell is the stink of things breaking down (note that not everything sent to landfill will rot away). During this process, methane is created. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is even better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, which means it’s not really something we want to be creating more of than necessary. Though, some tips harness this methane for energy purposes, which is better than letting it escape into the atmosphere.

There are additional risks of soil and water pollution due to the gross, toxic soup of liquid that forms when things break down. I don’t think any one wants that to end up in local streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, and killing anything that lives in it.

While landfill sites now are fairly well regulated, old landfill sites are polluting waterways and could impact local wildlife. Experts have also warned that coastal erosion at old landfill sites could expose us and wildlife to toxic chemicals. Not cool. I did not sign up for historic rubbish coming back to fudge stuff up for us like the plot of the fourth sequel in a horror movie franchise.


2. ‘Things’ take a lot of time, energy, and resources to make

Whatever it is you’re throwing away - that thing had to be created and packaged. We are now so far removed from manufacturing processes that 1) don’t even think about it, and 2) when we do, we probably wouldn’t have a clue how it was actually made.

Just some of the steps that might go into making a ‘thing’ might include:

  • Mining something from the Earth (which can be rife with slavery, human rights, and environmental issues)
  • A lot of water being used in the manufacturing process; clean water is a precious resource
  • Time and energy from every person involved in the entire process (again, this could be linked to slavery, human rights, and environmental issues, such as the Rana Plaza collapse)
  • Forests or grassland being cleared to grow or extract a material used in that thing
  • The use of fossil fuels; for example, plastics can be made from fossil fuels, which are a nonrenewable source

3. It’s not just about throwing less away

For me, this is an offshoot of the last post. I used to think waste reduction was about putting less things in the bin, and it is in one way. It’s also about being more conscious of what you’re buying. You learn to really research things to find out what they’re made from, how long they will last, if they can be repaired, what you need from something, or if you even really need it in the first place.  

Reducing your rubbish definitely leads to a more conscious lifestyle, and, if you want it, it can lead to a minimalist lifestyle.


4. Less clutter is always good

For me, living more consciously has meant having less clutter in the house. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying our house is a clutter free zone. It’s a work in progress but I’m happy knowing that anything I bring into the house is something I’m happy with, confident will last, and fulfil its purpose.

5. We all have to do our part

We all share this planet and are equally responsible for looking after it. It isn’t just about us as individuals though. It’s about us holding companies and governments accountable.

Don’t like that your favourite biscuits come in non-recyclable packaging? Tell the company how much you love to dunk those biscuits, but are so disappointed in their packaging choices. Change might be slow, but if everyone does their part it will happen.

  • Tell your local MP that you want something to be done about all the litter thrown out of car windows and into hedges.
  • Complain to your local supermarket if you can’t buy the produce you want plastic-free.


6. Does anyone actually enjoy going to the tip?

I can’t imagine anyone enjoying having to load a car up, fight for a parking space, not find a parking space near the bin you want, and have to haul a load of stuff down the other end of the car park to put it in the right bin.

How about we just bring less crap and things that will break easily into our homes, so the only time we do have to go to the tip is when something is legit old and past it. And even then, you might be able to rescue it; I turned some wood from an old wardrobe into two stunning hairpin leg bedside tables.

A company, and the government, is responsible for their actions the same way you or I am (whether or not they try and shirk that responsibility). By telling them that their efforts aren’t good enough and that it’s not what their customers/the public want, we encourage the kind of change we want to see. Maybe that sounds a bit ‘away with the faeries’ to you, but let’s all try it and see how it works out.

DIY Hairpin leg mid century nightstand

7. You learn new skills

Instead of throwing that broken thing away, figure out if you can fix it first. In Edinburgh, we have the Shrub Coop and Edinburgh Remakery, both of which offer ways people can learn new skills, repair, and purpose items. Maybe there's something similar near you? If not, does one of your friends or family know how to fix something?

If something can no longer be used for its original purpose, can you repurpose it? Maybe you can...

8. You can save money

Hands up who loves saving pennies? I thought so. 

There are plenty of ways to save a penny or two by reducing your waste. For example:

  • Keeping tabs on your food waste by making sure you don’t buy food that will spoil before you use it
  • Trading single-use items in for forever-use items
  • Buying something higher quality that will last, instead of you replacing it in a few months
  • Fixing something instead of replacing it

And then, you can spend those well-saved pennies for adventures, seeing your favourite band, buying The Sims 4 and proceeding to spend your spare time cleaning up after pixel people instead of cleaning your own house, or treating you and your Mum to a long day exploring record stores. 


I need your help!

I’m toying around with running a waste reduction challenge next year and I want to know if that’s something you’re interested in? If it is, please tell me what kind of things you’d want it to include or what kind of questions you want answering. 

As ever though, if you have any questions or suggestions, fire away and lets produce less waste!