When my daughter exploded into the kitchen in floods of tears, I assumed something was seriously wrong. It was okay; it was just that the earth was in extreme peril. She knew that the earth was in extreme peril and what we should do to help because Blue Peter had told her. Thank god. I thought it was something serious! “We need a serious talk, Mummy” became quite an extensive ripping into me about why, if I HAD the tote bags, hadn’t she seen me using them? And WHY wasn’t I buying loose fruit and veg? And WHY didn’t I have a reusable coffee cup? WHY wasn’t I taking this more seriously? How could she sleep tonight?
No one likes it when a child wins an argument and in this case, I had absolutely no legs to stand on. I knew this stuff but like many adults faced with battling through the normal day-to-day without forgetting to take the swim bag, the homework, and get the seventeen loads of school washing done that DOES NOT TUMBLE DRY. Yes, I knew the basics and it felt like being aware was enough. Awareness with a side of apathy doesn’t stop plastic killing sea creatures, or polluting our rivers, or you know, global warming and what not. That stuff carries on regardless and doesn’t care about your day. It’s selfish like that.
I dug out the jute bags from the back of the cupboard. I started shopping at the local weekly market for fruit and veg. I took out a mortgage to buy myself a KeepCup and ordered a metal water bottle for school from eBay. I felt like a good parent once more. Hurrah! No, not hurrah. The water bottle’s lid got so dented after a short time in the care of the clumsiest child in Christendom that it leaked in her school bag and had to be replaced by one, not from eBay that cost three times as much but was capable of doing its ONE JOB of retaining water within itself.
The market was fine but the food’s shelf life didn’t last the week until the next one and if I didn’t get in there instantly and loudly with my bags and desire for “no plastic please”, the stall holder had my fruit and veg packed in enough single-use plastic to sink a small pigeon before you could say “GLOBAL WARMING!”. The jute bags got dirty quickly, so obviously I popped them in the wash, where the lining disintegrated into a million tiny pieces of turtle choking plastic. This was not going well.
Now I should say that as much as I wanted to be better, to be greener and save the planet, what I wanted more than anything was for Lily to feel okay again. So, I tried harder. I bought bigger, better, cotton unlined tote bags. Loads of them. I even remembered to put them back in the car most of the time – and now, when I don’t, I put my food in the boot loose and just pack it when I get home.
I got two more water bottles for school so that when I had forgotten to wash one up AGAIN, I could grab the other. I found a grocer’s shop and stopped navigating the market. It was finally on track and change was taking hold. I was finding ways to make it work for us – a busy, stressed, perpetually late family, with me sporting only half a working brain through years of child-induced sleep deprivation.
And so, two years on, we were writing a list of switches for the new school Eco Committee, looking back at how far we had come as a family and how good it felt to share this information, when it occurred to me, how much it would have helped me two years ago for someone to hand me a sheet of switches that worked. Switches that real people had tried rather than relying on eco shops who seem to think all their products are amazing, and even more helpful, to have been told that those bottles leak, those bags can’t be washed, that eco kitchen cleaner smears and those wax wraps don’t last six months but these ones are still going strong after a year.
This is when ‘Green at the School Gates’ was born – a Facebook group for tired parents who want to be greener but could really do with a hand from parents who have been using something green and great for a while and want to shout it from the rooftops. We are far from perfect but we are doing what we can, where we can and if we all celebrate our successes and work together, we might start to live in a world where green is the new normal and we can all sleep better at night. If my kids ever sleep through that is…
You can join Green at the School Gates here
Ten Easy Green Switches for Busy Parents
I don’t bake. I know that if I did, I could be greener and cut down on a load of single-use plastic, but also, my family would go pretty hungry because I’m an awful cook. I have to live within my own reality and that’s fine. No one is perfect. Please let go of the idea that being green is cooking every meal from fruit and veg you’ve grown or bought from the grocer and meat you’ve brought home in a stainless steel lunchbox from a butcher. Or that your baby should be in washable nappies and that you should be knitting your own jute dish clothes (although all of this is amazing if you have the time and talent and I applaud you). There is still so much you CAN do that won’t impact on your time but will make a huge difference to your eco credentials.
Milk and More
Thank goodness that the milkman didn’t die the death everyone was predicting twenty years ago because he is now a one-stop shop for a load of plastic free brilliance. Milk, juice, extremely nice fruit squash, River Cottage yoghurt, organic fruit and veg boxes, granola in paper bags, soft drinks, tonic water and more – all completely plastic free. All on the easy Milk & More app, in the ‘plastic free section’, that even the sleepiest parent can navigate with ease. And there’s more.
Their general range is now huge, from bread and biscuits to grow bags and bamboo toilet paper, your milkman is on standby in his electric milk float, on a trip he was already making, to bring you all the annoying stuff you left off your actual online shop or shopping trip, vastly cutting down your car emissions because you can easily avoid those environmentally terrible short trips in the car whilst saving your sanity by protecting you from the horror of traversing the shops with children and giving you back time to sit down and have a nice quiet cup of tea while you reflect on your own eco-brilliance.
Cheeky Panda was only set up in 2016 and they sell some really superb tissue products. You can buy direct from them, through your Milk & More app, from Amazon, Ocado, Boots and many more – but unfortunately the milkman currently only brings the range that is still wrapped in plastic (albeit recycled) whereas if you go through their site you can get the paper wrapped range. Either way, it’s a great switch. They make toilet paper, pocket tissues, baby wipes and kitchen roll from bamboo rather than paper. Bamboo is an extremely sustainable fast growing crop which Cheeky Panda utilize without the need for harsh chemicals, chlorine bleach, fertiliser, de-inking chemicals, B.P.A. fragrance or pesticides, unlike traditional paper production which is a major cause of deforestation and has quite an awful production process all-round. You cut bamboo down, a load more grows back, you cut a tree down, the tree is dead. Bamboo is actually better for making tissue in many ways – it’s soft, gentle on skin AND the environment. It is that rare gift of an eco-alternative that is genuinely better than the product it is replacing.
Who Gives a Crap
Similar to Cheeky Panda, Who Gives A Crap sells more environmentally friendly tissue products such as toilet paper, kitchen roll and face tissues, all completely plastic free, with most of their range utilizing recycled paper. They deliver in bulk so you only have to think about it every few months and you can set up a subscription so you never have to remember to buy loo roll, ever again. They do now make bamboo toilet paper too which I have heard excellent reviews of through my Facebook group, and I will be testing it myself. BUT the rest of the range is paper-based, so it is a matter of personal preference. For me, I’ve never come across a recycled paper loo roll I’ve liked – but I know many friends who swear by this range. A giant plus in WGaC’s favour is that they donate 50% of their profits to charities like WaterAid in the developing world, to build toilets and improve sanitation. Which is pretty amazing.
Iron & Velvet
Part of me loves the idea of making my own cleaning products, but the rest of me wouldn’t trust them to work. I like bleach. I like anti-bacterial. I like my cleaning products to have been produced by companies dedicated to making sure they work so I don’t have to worry that I’ve accidentally given my family food poisoning. That is why Iron & Velvet is one of my absolute favourite green switches. They make plastic free, dissolvable, concentrated cleaning pods that are as environmentally friendly as they can possibly be whilst still doing their job. You simply pop the pod in an empty spray bottle (I got glass ones from eBay as I hadn’t had the forethought to save old plastic ones) then add warm water to dissolve the pod. Wait a minute then shake and you’ve got yourself a fresh bottle of cleaning solution. They sell several varieties already, kitchen and bathroom both come in additional anti-bacterial versions for people like me, then there is oven cleaner, glass cleaner and floor cleaner. They are launching car and garden pods shortly. Best of all, the products actually work. The anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner is a delicious coconut and lime, the anti-bacterial bathroom DOES smell a bit like Body Shop’s White Musk from the 90s, which took a little getting used to, but mixes quite well with the bleach smell from the toilet! They have a mix and match deal for five pods with free delivery for £10, which is great.
Yes, SMOL comes in plastic and yes, this does sound counter-intuitive. But stay with me on this. SMOL make dissolvable laundry pods and dishwasher tablets. Both are highly concentrated, so very small, have fewer chemicals than traditional brands and are cruelty-free. They also work really well and make your washing smell nice. So, about this plastic. There are rules about the containers for such products that have to be followed and so before anyone puts their hand up and says washing powder comes in cardboard, that cardboard legally has to be lined in such a way it makes it not generally recyclable – just like a disposable coffee cup. SMOL has therefore chosen to use a plastic that is 90% recycled, they are hoping to be 100% recycled by next year and the plastic is 100% continuously recyclable. A lot of plastic packaging, if recyclable at all, can only be processed once, so this is a very good option. SMOL are constantly looking to reduce their environmental impact further and are investigating going plastic free as soon as the technology is up to the task. This is another subscription service so you set up an account with how many washes you do a week and it just magically arrives in the post – in post-box sized packaging. You can easily adjust the time between deliveries if you find your self with a stockpile of either washing or capsules. Another plus is that I no longer have a washing basket filled with those awful purple washing balls.
This is a super easy thing to start doing. It mostly stores cupboard stuff but you just have to look, you don’t have to think about it much. You just pick the glass option, if there is a glass option. That’s it. So much of it is the SAME product, which is frankly ridiculous, but there you go. Dried herbs, seasonings, oils, tomato ketchup, Marmite, mayonnaise and passata are all things that come in the glass if you just pick that one and often you don’t even need to change from your usual brand. Madness. Glass is crazy easy and low impact to recycle. If you can find jars with metal lids too you can feel extra smug and pat yourself on the back twice. If you want to be really good you can apply the same principle to fresh food too, juice, puddings and yoghurts can all be found in glass containers, even Aldi do a really tasty Farmhouse yoghurt with fruit puree in a small glass jar you can repurpose as a tealight holder or small cuttings vase. Times are changing, its not just those Gu things anymore. Which is good because I really don’t need any more ramekins…
People kept buying me bar soap as gifts and I kept putting them in a big bowl to look pretty in my bathroom. Until I ran out of liquid soap one day and actually started using it. Now I’m a complete convert – but you do need a good soap dish. I have a lovely White Company one. It lasts for ages and there are so many lovely smells out there now and you can go from basic right up to extremely fancy in the soap world. My personal favourite for hand soap is the local Little Bird range and for body soap, the Daylesford rose one. It was a sad day when that finally ran out but it did last for months.
I also bring home those mini bars of soap you get in hotel rooms to put in the kid’s bathroom as these are easier for tiny hands and would just be binned if left in the hotel.
Soap on a Rope
Since we moved house, I no longer have a shower I can have a soap dish in without it filling with water and turning to mush. So thank god that soap on a rope is a thing again! No longer resigned to grannies, it’s been revamped by some lovely artisan soap makers. Also by some tacky soap maker – Avengers soap on a rope is a real thing. Lily is delighted and will be testing soon! My first is Rhubarb Rhubarb by Agnes and Cat and it smells like rhubarb and custard sweets which I’m loving. It seems pretty solid and hasn’t gone mushy so the system works. The husband has a lovely Sandalwood one by the Clovelly Soap Co. that he got on Amazon.
Kit & Kin and Mama Bamboo
I had one reusable nappy I used one time with my first born and that was enough for me. Then I used Pampers and they were brilliant, but not for the planet. Towards the end of my son using nappies in the day, I tried Kit and Kin biodegradable and Pampers eco nappies. I didn’t love either. Both left fibres on him, both gave him a nappy rash. Now that he is FINALLY potty trained I do use Kit and Kin again for nights and that works without any problems with much lower quantities of wee. What I DO love from the Kit and Kin range (as well as it being founded by Baby Spice) are both their biodegradable baby wipes and their compostable nappy bags, which are both absolutely superb. We use the nappy bags for food waste in the kitchen and as dog poo bags (you can get dedicated eco dog bags but they don’t tie at the top which is a ridiculous design flaw so these are better). I was pretty pleased with myself that we had found the best solution BUT I’ve since learned through the Facebook group that Mama Bamboo make biodegradable bamboo nappies and wipes and they are apparently really excellent. I will be trying these out on my toddler at night time.
Wax food wraps were one of my first eco switches and they really are a good one to start with because it’s no faff. I didn’t realise how much clingfilm I got through until I had these. They are actually easier than clingfilm because you don’t have to mess about, you just wrap it over your leftovers, or wrap things up like a present – the wax sticks to itself. It’s actually better for cheese because it allows it to breathe. The only downside is you can’t use them on raw meat, but as I don’t often wrap up raw meat, this hasn’t been a problem so far. My current wraps are from Green Bumble have been going over a year and are the best I have tried. The wax is suitably sticky, the fabric is thick enough and they don’t just flake within a few months as my original ones did. This is a huge relief to me as the company was co-founded by a friend of mine and it would have been really embarrassing if they were rubbish. I would recommend having quite a stock so you can have a selection of sizes to hand. Once they finally die a death, you can roll them up and cut them up as fire-starters. Zero waste style. Next up for me to try is reusable baking parchment which my mother has been using for years and years. If someone could invent reusable foil then that is a whole aisle of the supermarket I won’t ever need to visit again…
Article by Rachael Mantle
Rachael Mantle lives in the Cotswold village she grew up in, with her husband, her eco warrior daughter and her dinosaur-obsessed three-year-old son who still does not sleep through. Rachael is trying to find a greener path through the Lego bricks and forgotten homework of day-to-day life, despite not having had a proper night’s sleep in nine years. Rachael is also a singer-songwriter and author when her children let her be.
Don’t forget to join the Green at the School Gate Facebook group here.