Live LAGOM Project Update

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It’s been three months since I picked up my sustainable living stash from IKEA (see here for my first post about it). Because I live on my own in a small flat it was a struggle to spend £500 (I didn’t spend it all) – I wanted to pick things that really would be useful. The changes I’ve made have been small but I’ve become a lot more conscious about everyday living. The bulk of the money actually went on soft furnishings to keep my flat warm because with old electric heaters and no double-glazing it did get chilly! I picked a huge soft rug for my living area which made the world of difference, it was really noticeable how cold my feet got elsewhere in the house. I also put up new blackout curtains in the bedroom and blind for the kitchen. The blind was a bit tricky because I had to cut it to length so that it fit snuggly in the window. This involved sawing through the (very thin) metal rod and cutting the blind with a Stanley knife. I have a recommendation for IKEA on this – print squared guidelines on the back of the blind to make it easier to cut straight! It’s a very inexpensive way to improve the look and warmth in the kitchen though so was well worth taking the time to fit it properly.

Me enjoying the view more than DIY

Me enjoying the view more than DIY

My New Year’s Resolutions

My resolutions were 1) zero food waste 2) stop wasting heat 3) achieve 100% recycling 4) save water. I’ve already discussed saving heat so let’s think about food. First, I’ve been popping down to my local weekly ‘Veg shed’ whenever I can. Not only is it supporting local growers but it’s great value for money and means I get things in season and at their best. I’ve been far more careful with portion sizes and had a clear out of the cupboards and freezer so I could keep track of exactly what I had.

On to recycling . . . Now, I don’t think I can say I’ve reached the 100% recycling zone but I’ve certainly been trying. I took the time to visit the city council website to see exactly what could go in my recycling bins (magazines – yes, gift wrap – no) and I’ve been washing out my jars and plastic tubs rather than lazily throwing them in the bin. I found out the council even have a recycling app with all the important info and collection dates. I also had a sort out and visited the City Depot Recycling Park. It was fantastic to see so much going on. I took years’ worth of broken and unusable electronics – old kettle, lamp, laptops, things that can be broken down and disposed of/reused safely.

And finally for my saving water efforts. The main change I’ve made is to reserve baths as a treat and stick to showers. I just felt so guilty sitting in a huge tub of water. I also realized that I often took a bath to warm up when I got home but by taking the steps to keep the flat warmer anyway that wasn’t so necessary.

My plans moving forward are to keep going as I have been and as spring comes start foraging more for food!

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The Health Hazards Lurking in Sanitary Products

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I need to talk about tampons. Not the prettiest subject but that’s probably why we don’t talk about them very much. And why I haven’t thought about them very much.

Sanitary products have been around since the 1930s and women everywhere are forever grateful, but the materials they are made of have barely changed in that time. Conventional products are made of Rayon – the man-made fibre created from cellulose wood pulp (cue the slaying of many trees), non-organic cotton (bad for farmers, waterways and wildlife) and synthetic materials like polypropylene (non-biodegradable). That’s not to mention the widespread use of plastic tampon applicators that take 25 years to biodegrade, littering our seas in the meantime.

So I think it’s safe to say sanitary products are bad for the environment, but that’s not all. Conventional products are also treated with a whole host of nasties. These can include chlorine to increase absorbency and make the products white and chemical fragrance. Rayon and viscose fibres can shed in use, leaving behind dioxins that cling to the vaginal wall. Not something I want in my intimate parts. The World Health Organisation claims that dioxins are highly toxic, interfering with the immune system and hormonal balance. The crazy thing is there is no in-depth scientific research on the impact of using these sanitary products (or is it that surprising really?) but for those of us who like to avoid toxic chemicals wherever possible there are alternatives.

TOTM make organic tampons and sanitary towels, 100% free from pesticides, chemical fertilisers, perfume and bleach. They only use cardboard applicators and their products are 95% biodegradable. Healthier for the planet and the women using them, they offer a subscription service so you can have supplies sent straight to your door (or you can submit one-off orders). A box of 10 regular applicator tampons cost £2.80 – more expensive than cardboard applicator Tampax but about the same as their fanciest pearl compak.

I’m converted.

Go to www.totm.com

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Book Chapter Published – Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies

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Edited by Emma Casey (Senior Lecturer Sociology at Kingston) and Yvette Taylor (Professor at Strathclyde), Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies explores the importance of consumption in shaping the intimacies of everyday life. With contributions from ten academics spanning sociology, anthropology and human geography, this volume develops debates surrounding the emotional and material labour involved in producing domestic and intimate spaces. It builds on previous volumes focused on everyday and gendered consumption including Jackson and Moore’s (1995) The Politics of Domestic Consumption and Casey and Martens’ (2007) Gender and Consumption – both key texts adopted during my PhD.

The edited book came about after a BSA Families and Relationships Study Day in early 2013, convened by the editors. It represented a key point in acknowledging the role of material culture in providing a sociological understanding of everyday life, at a particular point in time following worldwide economic austerity. I presented some findings from my PhD research at the event which led to an invited chapter in the resulting volume. The book was published at the end of 2015 and a launch event held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow on 29th January 2016. It was the weekend of storm Gertrude which made it rather more eventful!

The volume is in three parts:

Expanding the Field: Conceptualising Intimate Consumption
‘Sticky’ and Shifting Sites of Intimate Consumption
The Intimate Social Life of Commodities

Individual contributions include Julie Seymour’s look at the use of space and practices of display in commercial family homes (i.e. family run pubs and hotels), Sarah Wilson’s account of the significance of material objects in constructing a sense of belonging for young people in care and Rachel Hurdley’s investigation of making home in the workplace.

My own chapter considers the practices appropriated by middle-class mothers in negotiating the perceived risks inherent in consuming second-hand baby clothes, toys and equipment. Here is the full abstract:

Focusing on the mother as consumer as well as carer, this chapter considers mothers’ co-consuming practices related to used/second-hand baby goods purchased at nearly new sales. Citing second-hand consumption as an intimate and risky practice, the material negotiations and risk reduction strategies practiced by middle-class mothers as they engage in consuming second-hand baby items are discussed. Thirty mothers were interviewed, with the narrative of risk focused on two main themes: hygiene and safety. Concerns over hygiene were particularly prevalent when consuming textiles that were seen to harbour traces of the previous other or dirt that may contaminate the ‘pure’ child. Whilst practices of divestment and cleanliness in the home were not necessarily normalised (but were influenced by social factors) the second theme, that of safety, was heavily structured by social conventions and recognised guidelines and offered less scope for subjective mediation.

Waight, E. (2015) ‘Buying for Baby: How middle-class mothers negotiate risk with second-hand goods’ in E. Casey and Taylor, Y. (ed.) Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies, Palgrave Macmillian, London, pp.197-215.

I fully recommend the book for anyone interested in material culture, consumption, everyday life and relationships.

feet-baby

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Live Lagom: New Year’s Resolutions for Sustainable Living

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For many, Christmas is the epitome of excess. Sitting at my parents surrounded by the last remnants of wrapping paper, overflowing bins and untouched Christmas cake overshadowed by even more delectable boxes of chocolates, I could vouch for that. In contrast, January marks a month of frugality and dieting as we struggle to cling onto the last few pounds in our bank accounts whilst shedding the extra pounds round our middles. Somewhere in-between this though, we can find ‘Lagom är bäst’ – my motto for 2016 and the title of a new project lead by Ikea and Hubbub.

Lagom är bäst’ is Swedish for ‘the right amount is best’, or ‘just enough’. It’s the focus of a large new project I’m participating in – a collaboration between Ikea, the charity Hubbub, and the University of Southampton, to help everyday households live more sustainably. I’m so excited that I can finally talk about it as I was first approached to take part back in the autumn. I’ve since attended a workshop at Ikea and had a home visit by Ikea and Hubbub workers. I have a feeling I might be the smallest household in the project with my studio flat, but across the UK around 150 households are taking part over the next few months.

What does the project involve?

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If everyone lived as we do in the UK currently we’d need the resources of three planets to support us. We all have a responsibility to cut down on our environmental impact and a huge amount of time and resources are being put into research and policy to help us do this. Yes, business and industry are major perpetrators but this doesn’t take the onus off individuals – together we can make a difference.

Live LAGOM is part experiment, part awareness-building project. The participants (who were selected via an application process through the IKEA Family network or based on current involvement with similar projects) were each given up to £500 to spend on IKEA products, specifically selected to encourage and enable sustainable living at home. Available items included LED light fittings, storage for recycling, water saving taps and heat-saving curtain liners. We had to complete an initial questionnaire about our habits and awareness and will be asked to report our progress throughout the project running until summer 2016.

I was invited to a morning workshop at my local Southampton store with six other participants where we learnt about the project and got to see some of the products IKEA have developed to help sustainable living. I was really impressed with IKEA’s dedication and the knowledge of staff as they gave us a tour of the store, learning as much about their sustainable operations as they products they sold.

All three of the project leaders are directly involved in the sustainability agenda. Even Ikea, whom I’ve long had concerns about for flogging cheap stuff to consumers who have no qualms about chucking it out when they move house or fancy a change of décor, are pioneering both sustainable living and more sustainable production. For example, Ikea are a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative, becoming the first major retailer to use 100% cotton from more sustainable sources in 2015. In addition, the IKEA Group produced renewable energy equivalent to 53% of the total energy consumption in its operations, and is on track for 100% by 2020.

HUBBUB is a new charity with a fresh approach to environmental stewardship. I’m totally on board with their ethos of focusing on the positives of making environmentally friendly choices – having fun and saving money – rather than doom and gloom lecturing. This year they ran upcycling workshops for clothing with many more activities in store for 2016. Finally, the University of Surrey have made sustainable living and sustainable development a focus of their research and engagement efforts with the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group and brand new international Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity. I’ll be very interested to see what they do with the data from the Live LAGAOM project.

My New Year’s Resolutions

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So that’s an introduction to the project. I had my IKEA shopping trip in December. It felt odd chucking things in a trolley for free; I couldn’t bring myself to spend my whole £500! It went a long way, even by spending nearly half of it on a massive rug to keep my feet warm. I will collect my shopping this week and will prepare future blog updates around my progress on the resolutions listed below. In general, I think I do alright with my sustainability efforts – I don’t have a tumble drier, I’m careful with water, I recycle, and I love buying second-hand goods. That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement so my resolutions for 2016 are:

1. Zero food waste. I don’t waste much food but I do waste some – the slimy lettuce, stale bread, over abundance of cooked rice, etc. Living alone it’s fairly easy to keep track of but I have a habit of buying a weeks’ worth of veg forgetting that I’m away for a long weekend so my aim for 2016 is to be scrupulously careful with food. I have some great new containers from IKEA to help. They’re glass (so no worries about leaching plastic) but with a secure plastic lid. I love them! One thing that really upsets me is the fact that living in a flat I have nowhere to put my compost waste. There’s not much I can do about this but I do plan to ask the freeholder if they’d consider a composting area outside. I also want to forage for my own food more and have lined up a course I want to take to learn more about it.

2. Stop wasting heat. I have drafty windows with little if no insulation. Being in a top floor flat only one of my four windows has curtains (two are skylights) and even those are incredibly thin. I got new curtains, blackout liners and blinds from IKEA so expect a post on my efforts at fitting those!

3. Achieve 100% recycling. I have good recycling – Southampton City Council take plastic, tins, paper and glass and I’m mostly good with it but occasionally you just can’t be bothered to wash a jar, right? I’m sure I’m not alone with this? I could do more basically – very little needs to go in my bin.

4. Save water. Again, I do think about water consumption but there is more I can do. I’ve started to be innovative already, like filling up my hot water bottle with water used to steam vegetables (beware of spillage) but I can save even more by taking fewer baths and shorter showers, and using the washing up bowl acquired at IKEA rather than filling up the sink.

Some of my IKEA products will help me live more sustainably without changing my habits. I already turn lights off when I’m not in a room, but my new LED light bulbs will save me up to 80% of energy I’m currently using. Similarly, an electric timer attached to the plug will end the need to keep phones charging all night.

Watch this space for future blog updates!

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Crafty Advent Calendar

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I think I’ve only been without an advent calendar for one year, and even then I still had the reusable book style woodland advent calendar given to me as a child that I took into the office to stretch out for all to see. Popular belief links the first advent calendars to 19th Century Germany. Back then you’d only find a picture behind each door but of course nowadays the standard is chocolate, followed by an increasingly assortment of novelty calendars for kids and adults featuring beauty products, Lego, tea, beer and even, beard oil. Traidcraft have some lovely fair trade advent calendars featuring Divine chocolate. I however, have made my own and filled it with Lindt!

wooden advent calendar

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I was sent the calendar by Ocean loans who set up the crafty project for lifestyle bloggers to put their creative energies into preparing for Christmas. The calendar came from Hobbycraft, as did the Scandi-print paper I used to cover some of the doors and the advent numbers (although I’m missing a 15!). There’s still time to make your own advent calendar. If you want something easy, cheap and environmentally-friendly, try using small brown envelopes to make a basic wall calendar, or wrap individual parcels in leftover fabrics or brown paper and scatter them over a table.

Yay for Christmas!

advent train

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Cruelty-Free Bio-D Comes Top for Eco-Friendly Washing

washing-machine eco friendly

What we wash away down the plug hole has become an increasing concern of mine and has slowly but surely changed my cleaning habits considerably, both in terms of washing myself and washing things in my home. I’ve gone from a bleach lover to shamefaced occasional user; I clean my shower screen with vinegar and often bathe in plain hot water. The only time my clothes have smelt freshly fragranced in the last couple of years is when I happily discovered samples of everyday washing detergent in a holiday apartment and thought I may as well use them. And yes, the burst of ylang ylang sea breeze rose petal mountain fresh was LOVELY. But other than that I’ve tried a few environmentally-friendly alternatives – including nothing but water, which does work for the odd freshen-up.

First on the list we have Ecozone Ecoballs. A nice little discovery from a shop in Brighton, I genuinely think these are great. They are tennis-sized balls of eco goodness you can chuck straight into the drum again and again and by some science I don’t understand, your clothes come out clean with no harm done to the environment in the meantime. Because they are soap free you can cut the rinse cycle on your machine (if your machine has that function) thus saving extra water and energy. Although pricey to purchase upfront EcoZone then say that they cost just 8p per wash. After a few months you’re meant to replace the balls (that’s on my to-do list).

After my experimentation with EcoBalls I moved onto Ecover non-bio liquid, probably I should say, in search of something fragranced. Normally I’m a great fan of Ecover, not least because their range of cleaning products is extensive and easily available in the supermarket, but sadly I didn’t get on with their washing detergent. Whilst it did clean my clothes and made them smell clean too, something about it irritated my skin. I don’t have particularly sensitive skin so this was surprising and perhaps said more about my lack of contact with soapy detergents in general. Whatever it was, mum benefited from my cast-offs and I haven’t had any complaints about its effectiveness in dealing with dog blankets and mud-encrusted jeans.

And so we come to Bio-D who recently sent me some washing detergent and fabric conditioner to trial (they must think I’m posh – I can barely be bothered to condition my hair!). Bio-D is an independent, family owned, ethically motivated company producing environmentally responsible detergents that have minimal ecological impact both in their manufacture and use. Where possible ingredients are derived from plant-based, renewable sources. The concentrated laundry liquid is fragrance free and ideal for delicates and fine fabrics. I’ve found it washes my clothes perfectly and causes no irritation with wear. The fabric conditioners come fragranced with essential oils – juniper and seaweed, or lavender – or completely unfragranced.

Bio-D eco friendly washing

A further benefit of Bio-D is their disdain for animal testing. They ensure that none of their raw materials or finished products are tested on animals, and are therefore certified by the ‘Leaping Bunny’ logo. You’d probably recognise the Leaping Bunny logo, even if you’re not sure what the scheme is about. It’s coordinated by Cruelty Free International, the leading worldwide organisation working to end experimentation on animals. 100s of cleaning products, toiletries and beauty products are certified by the Bunny – you can request your own copy of their shopping guide to check yours. Cruelty Free International’s latest campaign asks consumers like you and me to sign the ‘Go Cruelty Free Pledge’ and only buy Leaping Bunny certified products. You can take the pledge here and receive monthly offers from Leaping Bunny brands, Bio-D being one of them.

So there we have it – three environmentally-friendly alternatives for washing your clothes tried and tested. I should say that although I don’t have kids or pets and therefore shouldn’t get particularly mucky – I do make a habit of rolling around the common on a weekday evening (for fitness training) and Bio-D coped fabulously with muddy knees and elbows.

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