Being as green as you can, when things don’t go to plan…

I don’t know about you, but I am tired. Like, bone tired. I’ve had ten years of children who hate sleep and love waking me up in the middle of the night to ask for water/a cuddle/to kick me/sleep on my head. I work, and then when I get home, I have to help my child with homework I don’t understand. I’ve got a sick cat that’s allergic to the entire world who needs to be taken to the vet every twenty minutes and a dog to walk AND my children don’t like any of the same meals.

I am currently doing three school runs a day and I’ve not got the energy to find a cleaner so I’m dealing with that myself (and by dealing, I mean watching the house get progressively more filthy and just not inviting anyone over thus to the outside world the filth does not exist, making it Schrodinger’s filth, ta-dah!). I’m exhausted before I get up and my brain doesn’t work. I simply don’t have the time or the brain space to be super green. But I still want to be as green as I can, within the walls of my actual life and I want to feel good about what I do rather than constantly beating myself up about what I cannot do or have simply forgotten to do.

So, I have a strategy. I now use the principle of a hormonal teenager out on a Friday night – who is the best-looking option in THIS room? And then I forget about the better rooms, rooms filled with people who have time to cook fresh healthy meals from scratch for every meal, people who remembered to water their tomato plants so have tomatoes, not a dried out plant equivalent of a scene from Dexter in their greenhouse, people who aren’t forgetful and disorganised, ice-cream makers and bread makers and yoghurt makers (all of which I hope to one day make time to master) and I try to make decisions purely on what I can do in the now that I am actually in.

In time, my children will sleep or move out, my cat will go to the big mouse buffet in the sky (it’s taken me so long to find the time to finish this into my cat HAS died and I got a new kitten months ago. He’s called Muggle, you’d love him) and I will have time to do better and I WILL do better. If we all just think it’s perfection or nothing, then quite frankly, it’ll be nothing. My friend sent me the best message the other day. It read “the world does not need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, it needs everyone doing it imperfectly”.

When Plan A goes wrong, I don’t stop, there is always Plan B, C or even D. I just do the best I can in the room I am in and try to keep going…

Forgotten/Empty Drink Bottle

We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again. What do you do when you are caught out and about with no drink?

A. On the days when I’ve actually got my reusable bottle but it’s already empty, there are things I can look for before succumbing to purchasing more to drink. Tesco cafes amongst other places will fill up your bottle for you. There’s even a water station now in a furniture shop in Shipston on Stour! People are on the whole becoming far more aware and happier to help. I’m going to put my hands up now and say this is information from the Green at the School Gates group – if you, like me, don’t like asking such questions without knowing that you will definitely get a positive answer (I know I’m such a child), all is not lost, there is now an app called Refill to locate places where to fill up your water bottle. I know right, how excellent is that! I’ve only just found out too. Starting an eco-group is extremely useful for getting such good tip-offs. Amazing.

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B. I ask myself, can me and mine realistically go thirsty? It is always worth a moment of self-checking because sometimes my children tell me they are dying for a drink and beg me to get one from a shop when the reality is if I just went straight home as planned I would be there, drink in hand, at around the same time I’d actually managed to buy one from a store.

C. Cafes. If I have time to get a poured drink in a glass that is obviously the winner move but if not, I’ve found they are often a better bet than a shop as generally, cafes seem to have a better selection of lower sugar or juice-based drinks in glass or cans than food shops – although that said, I have seen water in a can at both a train station and a big Tesco so times they are a-changing.

D. If still no, we are truly in need and there is no café in sight, if there is more than one of us, I share a larger bottle as it contains less plastic than two or more small bottles. Then I force myself to take my bottle home to recycle, which is often annoying and in the way – but that way I’m more likely to learn my lesson. And am pleased to report that has now entered the ‘once in a blue moon’ area in our house.

I’ve tried the eco version and I just don’t like it

Just because something is green it doesn’t mean it works or tastes nice. It’s actually one of my pet hates and a driving reason behind me setting up Green at the School Gates in the first place.

You try and do the right thing and buy an alternative, often far more costly version, but you just don’t get on with it. So, this plan B works for any item that comes in plastic packaging that I just can’t switch away from just yet. I mentioned it in my first blog, but repetition is the key to learning so – I buy the biggest version of it I can. And obviously, keep my ear to the ground to see if anyone has any actual tried and tested alternatives that work. But in the meantime, a larger packet, tub, box or bottle has less surface area than two or more smaller packets or bottles, etc. so at least I can try to be as green as I can with the packaging, if not the contents for the time being.

Think about yoghurt. Yum, I like yoghurt… anyway, imagine three or four small yoghurt tubs piled up to the size of a big yoghurt tub. The smaller tubs have all the plastic in the middle, where the big tub just has delicious yoghurt in the middle and only plastic tub on the outside.  The same applies to the less delicious Fairy Liquid. The buy big principle isn’t just about non-eco products though, it is a good general rule for any packaging. Big packets of pasta, rice, ANYTHING, creates less waste. Better to do something than nothing.

I need food on the go and starving is not an option

A. Obviously, if you know in advance and you have time/supplies/eco-packaging, a packed lunch is the best option here. Hands up, I rarely have that stuff because I try to keep my fridge as empty of food as possible to minimise food waste, so I am never prepared for last-minute changes in plans such as an unexpected day trip

B. If I just need a snack not a meal and I’m not feeling bothered about being super healthy, ice-cream in a cone is a really good option as is zero waste. BUT I avoid the mini tubs as these fall into the same camp as those evil paper coffee cups

C. If I have time to eat in a café, it’s a really good option because you can pick entirely package free food in many places

D. If not, I grab what I can from home (water, a reusable coffee cup) to minimise my impact when out and about

E. Deli’s. They are my current saviour when out and about. I seek out those places where they have the food laid out unpackaged and who put it in a bag when bought – but I ask for it without the bag. If I were a more organised person, I would stash a cloth napkin or wax wrap in my handbag, but so far, I’ve just been living with crumbs down my top, which I can live with as I wear those crumbs as a badge of eco-honour. I generally go for an artisan sausage roll (yes, it IS a thing), but let’s be honest, the same could work at a Greggs or pretzel place!

F. If there are simply no such places around, I do what I can. Something like a pasta salad pot is generally in clear plastic that is easily recyclable (I avoid black plastic as it is far less widely recycled) and I take my empties home. I ask myself if any of the packaging looks good for repurposing. And I don’t forget that fruit exists, as I probably eat too many crisps anyway. If sandwiches are the only option, I buy the sandwich with the least packaging like a wrap. Remember those cardboard ones are often plastic lined so if there’s paper there is more chance of salvaging the clean bits to recycle later.

I keep forgetting to take my tote bags shopping and even when I do remember I leave them in the car or don’t take enough in with me

A. I always plan to put the bags back in the boot of my car as soon as I have emptied out my shopping as it is the best way – but I am rarely that organised so I’m firmly in the plan B camp here.

B. If it’s dark, cold or rainy, I am already in my PJs at 6 pm (guilty every single day) and I don’t want the neighbours to see my pyjama walk of shame – or just need to get the hell on with dinner, I put my bags on the door handle, on top of my handbag, or whatever else I will definitely be leaving the house with when I do venture out.  My new top tip here is to put your handbag INSIDE your tote bag. Try forgetting that!

C. I put a small thin tote in my handbag for overflow shopping (I end up using this almost every single time as I’m always forgetting I need things until I see them)

D. If I’ve left the bags in the car, I don’t buy more bags now I already have enough, I just pack from the trolley when I get to the car

E. If I’ve left them at home, I still don’t buy more, I put the shopping in the boot loose and pack into bags when I get home

My children make that loud annoying noise if I don’t give them pudding or treats every so often, but they are almost always shrouded in plastic wrappers. Sometimes, I just need quick or easy solutions that are a proper treat so that noise stops…

A. If you have (and can master) an ice-cream maker, this is a really great way to cut out on SO much plastic and also stay in control of the sugar. BUT let’s face it, it’s all quite a hassle and requires skill and planning levels that I for one do not possess. So, let’s skip to plan B…

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B. Silicone lolly molds. Obviously, they still need a bit of planning because of freezing time, but I can just pour in some juice, and the work part is done. I have one, which makes quite small but fun fish-shaped lollies and my kids (ten and four) both love them. So far, I have stuck to pre-made drinks, so it’s as simple as pouring in juice, smoothies or still lemonade from the milkman as they all come in glass bottles. Even full-fat organic milk was a huge hit with my youngest. I just put a couple of drops of vanilla extract in for taste. He was utterly delighted to be allowed a lolly for breakfast! I am hoping that this is a skill I can develop as time goes on, and I’ve seen a couple of great articles on My Baba about really interesting and delicious looking lolly ideas and clever things with coconut water,  but in the meantime, fresh orange juice lollies from Milk and More bottles so they are reused over and over again with zero-waste are a great, albeit, lazy, start point

C. Jelly. Yes, I know, single-use plastic, but the serving to packaging ratio is good because the jelly is extremely concentrated, and you’ll get at least four servings out of the same amount of plastic from a single lolly wrapper – so it’s a good plan C but does require setting time.

D. Tub and cone. If you apply the ‘biggest possible package’ principle here, you can improve it further. By choosing scoop ice-cream over individually wrapped lollies I cut down on a lot of single-use plastic, and you could save the tubs to use in the fridge for the veg you are definitely going to get from the grocers or for making real ice-cream with the ice-cream maker you will definitely be getting next month. Or at least, in my case, I can recycle (I just bung my veg from the grocer in the bottom of the fridge loose.

E. Angel delight. Again, low on the nutritional value, probably full of stuff that will make our kids go mildly insane for a couple of hours, but also, made up with milk, so highly concentrated, thus smaller packaging for lots of servings and still better than a box of shop-bought lollies and it sets really quickly.

F. Sweets and chocolate. Kids like chocolate. I like chocolate. But rather than buying individually wrapped bars, I look out for the ones in foil and paper, it’s usually the large ones, so again I am using the ‘big bigger’ principle to reduce overall waste – and now there is something even better.

Eat Your Hat make chocolate in an outer cardboard covering, but the inside foil is really rather special because it is plant-based and can be put in your food waste! They are my hero AND the chocolate is delicious.

For a healthier and environmentally friendlier alternative to the dreaded Kinder Egg, there is now Playin Choc who make organic chocolate in a card box with a little cardboard puzzle toy. Be warned, they melt VERY easily so I avoid giving them in the car. But for more easily available treats there’s also Rolos, smarties and dip-dabs that have paper/foil packaging.

TOP TIP: You may not know, but foil can go in your recycling collection BUT it needs to be in a lump about the size of a tennis ball.

I had been putting my milk bottle tops in individually for months before I realised. Now I just collect foil in a cup in the cupboard until there’s enough. My best eco switch for sweets has been discovering the places locally I can get pick and mix in my own tub. Old fashions sweet shops locally to me will all weigh your tub first, and the price-by-item pick and mix in our village shop means we just count out into a pot rather than their paper bag. It works well because I can control the tub size, whereas paper bags are actually rather large

We don’t live in an ideal world and pretending that none of these scenarios will happen to us, is a sure-fire way of making decisions with considerably dodgier environmental impacts when they inevitably do happen to us. So many people seem to confuse being eco with having better morals, and that’s simply laughable. Being really, really green is far more to do with having more time, a robust skillset, help and more resources than most. At Green at the School Gates, we are a place for parents trying to help each other make a start and take a step in the right direction, where we can, when we can. Of course, I want to do better, but for now I have to be content with doing something.

So for anyone trying to do what they can, where they can, but still needs to buy the odd bottle of water because they have a child begging them for water and at the end of the day, they are really loud and everyone is destressed and you might actually cry in the middle of the train station if the noise… just… doesn’t… STOP. I get it. That’s reality. I feel and share your pain. Just be sure to take the bottle home to recycle. This article is for you, my people.

Cards on the table, the very day my first article was published on My Baba, despite having filled my daughter’s water bottle the night before and popping it in the fridge for extra chilled brownie points, I forgot to give it to her and so she didn’t have a drink at school except for lunchtime because that is just her way. AND I forgot the next day too which was even worse as she had a sports match – but she brought the plastic cup from match tea back to recycle. I remembered for the rest of the week and so I’m taking that as a general win because what could have been six plastic cups heading to landfill was just one. Boom.

That said, I’m not here to let you off the hook going on a guilt-free black plastic rampage. I read a really good piece of advice that has stuck with me – especially when it comes to bags. Once you’ve started, don’t just give in straight away when you mess up. Make life a little bit awkward for yourself – struggle to the car with loose shopping, don’t buy another ‘bag for life’ that, let’s be honest, you’ll just use as a bin bag anyway; because that way, next time, you are far more likely to remember your own damned bags. As humans, we tend to learn well from trying to avoid negative situations reoccurring so do try to push yourself a little at a time, just be kind to yourself AND to others while you do.

Article by Rachael Mantle, founder of Green at the School Gates.

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